Tragedy of people in a bad spot

When implacable foes make even a ceasefire measured in hours a tall order, what hope lies in achieving the seven-day truce that UN chief Ban Ki Moon wishes to see in Gaza? Despite the odds, however, the world must continue to seek ways to achieve a humanitarian lull in the 20-day conflict. The violence at the Gaza Strip has left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, including women and children, without shelter, food and water. A durable ceasefire is absolutely essential to give aid workers and paramedics unfettered access to refugees so medical aid and basic supplies can be channelled safely to them.

Such is the weight of history and politics that attempts hitherto, whether by Western or regional mediators, to extinguish the flames have proved fruitless. An earlier Egyptian-brokered truce, aimed at mutual de-escalation of hostilities, collapsed after Hamas rejected it and continued its rocket attacks, prompting a quick response by its opponent. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows full well the cost of losing the war on the diplomatic stage the longer he persists with military operations; and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal is undoubtedly aware his exhortation for "more patience" from Palestinians will wear thin as casualties mount. Yet, neither side is working on a plan for a better future for all.

The catch-22 in Gaza is the existential dimension that every rocket attack on Israeli soil takes, fed by Hamas' pledge to aim for nothing short of the destruction of the Jewish state. With eight in 10 Israeli Jews satisfied with Mr Netanyahu's handling of the crisis, pressing on with the goal of the "demilitarisation of Gaza" might be tempting to hawks. But the risk of further destabilising the region should not be ignored as tensions in Iraq and Syria show no signs of abating.

The hostility with which Hamas is regarded by many, including some of its Arab neighbours, is complicated by suspicions that it is seeking fresh stocks of missiles from North Korea. The rogue state is said to have assisted Hamas in its effort to build cross-border tunnels to launch attacks on Israel and has also supported other terrorist groups like Hizbollah. Hamas already has a slew of rockets and missiles, including long-range weapons with greater destructive power. Worse, many weapons are secreted in densely populated areas.

The truculence of Hamas and its rocky relations with coalition partner and erstwhile rival Fatah make it doubly hard for honest brokers to advance peace initiatives that can withstand the test of time. But try they must, not least to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people who are seeing everything they have worked for being reduced to rubble overnight.