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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Gaza crisis adds to danger
By Roger Hardy
Middle East analyst, BBC News

Israeli tanks mass on the border with Gaza
Israel has threatened extensive military action in Gaza
The Palestinian leadership is meeting in Gaza in the face of threats from Israel over the safe return of a missing Israeli soldier.

A Palestinian militant attack on Sunday, which also resulted in the death of two Israeli soldiers, has added a new and dangerous element to an already critical situation.

For ordinary Israelis, it's proof that the Hamas-led Palestinian government is committed to violence - and that the ceasefire which Hamas had largely observed for over a year is now well and truly over.

Moreover the capture of a soldier is always a highly emotive issue in Israel.

All of this puts pressure on a new Israeli government still trying to find its feet - and vulnerable to criticism over its security policies.

Who's on charge

But this new crisis also puts severe pressure on the Palestinian leadership - and reinforces the impression that in Gaza and the West Bank no-one is really in charge.

Some Hamas officials seem to favour such attacks, while others see them as counter-productive.

And the situation is complicated by the existence of an array of armed groups - three of which said they jointly carried out Sunday's attack.

The focus of pressure from Israel and the West is the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas - not because he's necessarily in a position to deliver results, but because he's the only point of contact they have.

The danger of further escalation - with Israel threatening various punitive measures if its soldier is not released - remains considerable.


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