- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2014

With diplomats from Middle Eastern states and several outside powers scrambling to stem the spiraling Israeli-Palestinian crisis on Monday, President Obama called for a cease-fire and cited “serious concerns” about the rising toll of dead on both sides.

The Obama administration also dispatched to the region Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who arrived in Egypt late Monday to try to mediate calm between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

But the violence continued to surge Monday night, with the top Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip signaling that the Islamist group, whose charter calls killing every Jew a religious duty, will not agree to an unconditional cease-fire with Israel. Meanwhile, Israel’s defense minister pledged Monday to keep fighting “as long as necessary.”

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With those assertions casting doubt over the highest-level attempt at mediation between the two sides since Israel began striking into the Gaza Strip two weeks ago, Israeli officials also said they were unsurprised by the level of organized military resistance that their forces have faced during recent days.

While the overall Israeli assault on Gaza has killed more than 500 Palestinians during the past two weeks, at least 25 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fierce urban combat against Hamas since the opening of an Israeli ground offensive in Gaza late last week.

“We’re not surprised in any way or form,” said Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. “We know that Hamas has been training with Iranian help, and its fighters have been attending Iranian schools.”

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“They are well trained, well supplied and disciplined,” Mr. Lerner told The Washington Times. “We knew all along.”

But the sudden surge in Israeli casualties — the highest number of soldiers killed since Israel’s 2006 Lebanon war — raised questions Monday over whether the nation’s public will remain unified behind the current campaign against Hamas.

Haaretz, a leading left-leaning Israeli newspaper, ran a sharply worded editorial Monday that warned against mission creep and the “wholesale killing” of Palestinian civilians and asserted that “there can be no victory” by continuing the military assault on Gaza.

Israel believes it enjoys a line of credit from the Arab countries and the international community that will allow it to continue to fight,” the editorial stated. “But the many horrific photos from Gaza and the scope of the humanitarian disaster there is liable to make that line of credit very short-term.”

Nevertheless, some regional analysts argued Monday that regardless of the mounting casualties on both sides, the Israeli public’s appetite for the war remains strong because of widespread anger triggered by weeks of Hamas rocket fire into the Jewish state.

“I don’t believe that the rising death toll among Israeli Defense Forces soldiers is going to weaken support among the Israeli public for this war,” said Neri Zilber, a scholar focused on Israel at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “And I don’t see cleavages emerging between different camps in the Israeli public.”

“At least not yet,” said Mr. Zilber, “and that’s simply because most Israelis believe, number one, that this war was very much brought upon them by Hamas — that it was Hamas‘ choice — and, number two, you can’t, as a country, sit idly by and watch rockets falling on your own peoples’ homes.”

The Israeli outrage is only being matched on the Palestinian side, with several Arab news organizations focusing Monday on the horrific impact that the Israeli incursion into Gaza has had on innocent Palestinian women and children.

Asharq Al-Awsat, a Saudi-owned but independent newspaper based in London, reported Monday that 17 children, 14 women and four elderly people were among some 87 Gazans killed during fighting Sunday.

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