- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

AMMAN, Jordan

Popular pressure is mounting on pro-U.S. Arab governments to end Israel’s deadly offensive in Gaza, even though they also oppose Hamas and would like to see the militant group’s power diminished.

As Gaza civilians are killed and wounded in the Israeli military attack, the leaders of moderate Arab states such as Jordan and Egypt are pressing harder for an end to hostilities as anger on their streets intensifies.

Images of dead Palestinian children being carried by wailing parents fill the front pages of the region’s dailies and play repeatedly over Arabic news satellite channels. The Arab networks are able to cover the Israeli bombardments and ground offensive live from Gaza - unlike Western journalists who have been banned by Israel.

In Jordan, where nearly half of the population of 6 million is of Palestinian descent and many have relatives in Gaza and the West Bank, sympathy for the besieged Palestinians is strong, as is outrage over Israel’s military operation on the coastal strip.

Israel began bombarding Gaza on Dec. 27 in retaliation for a spate of rocket attacks and escalated the offensive on Saturday when ground troops crossed the border.

Large daily demonstrations demand an end to Jordan’s 1994 peace treaty with Israel and the closure of the Israeli Embassy. Some lawmakers recently called for a review of Jordan’s diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries that have peace agreements with Israel. A third Arab country, Mauritania, also has diplomatic relations with Israel but recalled its ambassador on Monday.

Political analyst Labib Kamhawi said many Arab regimes have been complicit with what is happening in Gaza, whether by “directly being part of the plan or indirectly agreeing with the aims of the Israeli campaign.”

In Jordan, he said, the government has relaxed “very tough rules” permitting public protests, while allowing “sensitive issues like severing relations with Israel” to be publicly voiced to give a safety valve to vent the rage.

But other observers said that Jordan’s King Abdullah II has from the very start of the conflict condemned Israel’s onslaught and has called repeatedly for an immediate cease-fire.

Jordan’s Queen Rania, a UNICEF advocate, argued during an impassioned press conference earlier this week with U.N. officials in Amman that Gaza’s children and their families are “not acceptable collateral damage.” She and the U.N. agencies operating in Gaza appealed for urgent funds and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to bring in aid.

“The dead are everywhere… and it has become more difficult for us humanitarian agencies to move across Gaza and for people to take shelter with their numerous families,” said Filippo Grandi, deputy commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

The International Red Cross and U.N. agencies say Gaza has entered a full-blown humanitarian crisis. Israel disputes the conclusion, saying that warehouses in the territory have food stockpiles.

But the Red Cross maintains that in addition to diminishing food and medical aid, Gaza’s fragile power supplies could collapse at any moment, leaving 500,000 people without clean water and at risk of disease.

Queen Rania, who is of Palestinian origin, said it was imperative to work for an end to the fighting and to open all border crossings, especially Karni, linking Israel and Gaza, to permit the passage of vital supplies.

Diplomats from the European Union are working on an initiative with King Abdullah to open a humanitarian corridor.

Mr. Kamhawi said the position of Egypt’s government of Hosni Mubarak is even more complicated than that of Jordan. For months, Egypt tried to broker a reconciliation deal between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, but talks repeatedly broke down.

Despite Egypt’s warning to Israel of the consequences of what Cairo called “its savage aggression,” Mr. Mubarak has come under widespread condemnation in the Arab world over Israel’s attacks.

Many Arabs think Mr. Mubarak’s government had prior knowledge of the offensive because Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks with officials in Cairo just before it began and intimated that Hamas would be dealt a stinging blow.

Arabs also have criticized Mr. Mubarak for keeping Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza mainly closed. This has meant that few of the hundreds of injured Gazans have been able to flee and seek emergency medical care.

Although the Egyptian leader has said he would like to see more wounded Palestinians receive aid, he and his government fear that Hamas militants will exit the territory as well if the crossing is kept open.

Egypt and Jordan both recognize the Palestinian Authority as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Egypt has said it would fully open the Rafah crossing only if the Palestinian Authority is in control of the border.

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