Washington briefing: World reacts to Israel’s attack on Gaza

by Emil Sanamyan

Published: Friday January 09, 2009

Washington - Foreign governments issued a mixed reaction Israel's massive assault on the Palestinian-populated Gaza Strip on December 27. More than ten days into the fighting an estimated 660 Palestinians and at least 10 Israelis died in the war.

While the United States endorsed Israel's actions as "defensive," European Union members struggled to present a unified position. French president Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in the region to seek an end to violence in an effort reminiscent to his diplomacy between Russia and Georgia last August.

In Armenia's neighborhood, only Georgia openly sided with Israel, blaming the violence on the Palestinians. Azerbaijan said it backed "Palestinians' aspirations" but stopped short of criticizing Israel; there were a number of anti-Israeli protests in Baku, some broken up by police.

Armenia limited itself to an expression of "concern" over the "tragic events" and a call for an end to violence.

Russia called the fighting a "dangerous escalation" and demanded a halt to Israel's offensive.

Turkey's leaders condemned Israeli actions as a "crime against humanity" and there were numerous anti-Israeli protests throughout the country.

Iran threatened to retaliate and Iranian-backed Hezballah forces in Lebanon, which bloodied Israeli forces in the 2006 war, began launching rockets into northern Israel.

Israeli officials said the operation targets the infrastructure of Gaza's Islamist governing party, which is blamed for attacks launched on Israel from Gaza. Palestinian militant groups say the attacks are in response to continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza.

The attack, which according to Israeli media has been planned for months, came shortly before a general election in Israel in which the ruling moderate coalition is facing a strong challenge from a more hawkish opposition. The Tel Aviv stock market initially gained more than 10 percent on news of war.

In 2005, Israeli forces pulled out from Gaza after a 38-year occupation. Since then the tempo of attacks on Israel from Gaza - mostly by means of rocket launchers and mortars - increased significantly, although a six-month cease-fire from June to December 2008 brought a temporary respite.

According to figures compiled by Canadians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East (www.cpjme.ca), 13 Israeli civilians died in rocket attacks from Gaza between 2004 and 2008 (none of the fatalities occurred during the cease-fire); in the same period before launching the war Israeli military strikes killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

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