Editorial: Efforts must be made to end the bloodshed in Gaza

Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire in its fierce air and ground assault on the Palestinian autonomous region of the Gaza Strip on January 18. Some of the ground forces that invaded Gaza have begun to withdraw, and the hostilities seem to have subsided for the most part.

On the same day, the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared an immediate ceasefire. It was the first cessation in the fighting since the air strikes began 22 days ago at the end of last month. We would like to see both sides make an effort to ensure that this leads to a real truce.

More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed as a result of the offensive by Israel. Two out of three were civilians, and more than 400 were children. It is only natural that the international community has decried this indiscriminate slaughter. According to news reports, another 5,300 people have been injured, and 4,000 homes have been destroyed.

Israel reportedly began preparing for a large-scale military operation more than six months ago. The operation got underway with heavy attacks on Hamas just as the rest of the world began to enjoy the new year’s holiday. It has been suggested that Israel wanted to deal with the situation while U.S. President George Bush, a strong ally of Israel, was still in office and decided to declare a ceasefire just before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, saying that the attacks had been successful to a certain extent.

Although Gaza incurred tremendous damage, Hamas does not seem to believe that they have incurred a deadly blow militarily. Taking advantage of international pressure for prompt withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Forces, Hamas has taken a tough stance in order to obtain favorable terms such as the opening of border crossings.

Although for now there is a ceasefire, both sides have merely declared unilateral ceasefires and have yet to reach an agreement on the terms of the ceasefire (between themselves or) with the assistance of a third party.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel will pull out of Gaza once a stable truce is guaranteed, but the setting of a specific date for the withdrawal should come first.

With the tightening of the border crossings in Gaza, the people have reportedly run out of food, fuel, medicine, and other supplies. From a humanitarian standpoint, in order to preserve the lives of the residents, it is essential that the border crossings be opened.

Hamas has said they will not hesitate to resume their attacks if the Israelis do not withdraw within one week. We would like them to exercise caution.

Israel does not recognize Hamas as a negotiating partner. Without the cooperation of the countries involved on both sides, it will be difficult to achieve a true ceasefire.

The leaders of France, Great Britain, Germany and other nations have met to discuss the provision of humanitarian aid and the reopening of the border crossings. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has also declared he will hold an international conference to discuss reconstruction.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. accepted Israel’s contention that the operation was carried out in its own defense, and the U.S. bears a great responsibility for this. We hope President Barack Obama will listen to the Palestinian side as well and take the lead in paving the way to peace in the Middle East.

Japan became a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council this month. Our nation has strong ties with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. It’s time to start taking positive steps.

(Originally published on January 20, 2009)

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