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Opinion: Military Action Will Not Solve Hamas Problem

Israel has been bombarding targets in the Gaza Strip for three days now, claiming more than 300 lives. Deutsche Welle's Rainer Sollich wonders whether this is really the right way to defeat Hamas in the long run.

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By unilaterally ending their ceasefire nine days ago and launching rocket attacks on Israeli residential areas, Hamas clearly carries the main burden of guilt for the current escalation of violence. The militant Islamic organization did not only consciously risk this military response from Israel, but actually went out of its way to provoke this response -- even if they were taken by surprise by the time and the scale of the operation.

Winning the war, but losing the peace?

Israel clearly has the right to defend its citizens from attack. You also cannot expect Israel to show any consideration towards the members of a movement that has always rejected the right of the Jewish state to exist and used violence against it.

But all democratic states should distinguish themselves from opponents of this kind by sparing citizens' lives as much as humanly possible. From what can be gathered from international media reports and TV footage from Gaza, it is doubtful whether the Israeli campaign can be regarded as a measured response to Hamas' actions.

It is very difficult to spare innocent lives in the densely populated Gaza Strip because Hamas has purposely set up its own headquarters in residential areas for its own protection. But how seriously has Israel tried to do this? And how seriously does Israel rate the military operation's chance of success?

At the end of the day Israel can only really stand to lose. The uproar on the Arab street about the bloodshed in Gaza will continue to grow from hour to hour and is already weakening the position of those who are in favor of a historic peace settlement with Israel.

In the worst case scenario, the violence could spread uncontrollably. Lebanon's Hezbollah militia has already put its fighters on alert. Iran has expressed its unreserved solidarity with Hamas. The international community cannot simply sit back and watch as more and more people die and the danger of a regional conflagration in the Middle East grows. It has to do its utmost to get both sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire.

Israel should not cherish any illusions. Hamas will remain dangerous even if it is temporarily weakened by the current action. In fact, the organization will receive a moral boost from the current development and also garner support in the West Bank.

Hamas could probably withstand in the long-term the loss of staff and infrastructure, even a possible violent end to its government in the Gaza Strip. All that could really endanger the organization's position would be tangible improvements in the lives of the Palestinians in Gaza and a solution to the Middle East conflict for all sides concerned.

Rainer Sollich heads DW-RADIO's Arabic service (jg)

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