Sunday, December 2, 2007

WHILE shaking hands! and two days later

JERUSALEM — The Wednesday morning newspapers trumpeting the latest fresh start toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians hadn't hit American doorsteps when the first crude Qassam rocket of the day soared out of the Gaza Strip and into southern Israel.

Before lunch, Palestinian Authority police in the West Bank were using truncheons to break up angry mourners trying to bury a demonstrator who was killed a day earlier while protesting the new peace initiative.

By the time Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas joined President Bush in the Rose Garden to launch the latest round of negotiations, an Israeli airstrike had killed two naval police officers in the Gaza Strip, where the militant Islamist group Hamas seized military control in June after winning U.S.-backed elections in January.

Things could have been worse on a day that was supposed to celebrate the beginning of a yearlong march to peace. But Wednesday's events were a reminder that facts on the ground in the Middle East usually trump expectations in Washington.

"I expect peace talks will go on for a few months, maybe two or three or four months and then they will stop," said Iyad Ibrahim, an Abbas supporter and computer engineer in the Gaza Strip. "There will be some Israeli operation or attack from Hamas."

JERUSALEM, Dec. 1 — Five members of the Hamas armed wing were killed Saturday by an Israeli rocket strike in southern Gaza, near the village of Abassan. An additional eight gunmen were wounded, one critically, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, when helicopter gunship attacks followed the airstrikes.

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