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The fate of millions of people in this war-ravaged corner of East Africa depends on an uncertain peace agreement signed this week. A former British government minister, just back from visiting refugee projects in the area, assesses the country’s prospects
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The leader on Hamas and Israel (The Tablet, 19 July) is fair in many ways, but does contain some inaccuracies, which need correction:
1. "Israel bears a heavy responsibility for creating the situation in the first place". Israel, rightly, evacuated Gaza, leaving behind many greenhouses which could have been put to good use. Food and fuel come into Gaza from Israel (often 100 lorries a day), and Gazan children are treated in Israeli hospitals. The response of the Gazan leadership has been to destroy the greenhouses, fire many thousand rockets, (one of which has damaged a power station supplying Gaza itself), and commit to an explicit aim of destroying Israel.
2. Israel "values Jewish life higher than Palestinian life". The leader's first sentence is: "It is the first duty of any government to defend its citizens against external attack".
3. "The squalor in which many Palestinians are forced to live would not be tolerated if they were Jewish". The responsibility for the economic condition of the poorest Palestinians, apart from the relatively small proportion who live in Area C on the West Bank, belongs to the Palestinian leadership, not to Israel.
4. "Little distinction is drawn between members of Hamas and ordinary residents of Gaza". Israel has worked hard to reduce civilian casualties. It is a terrible thing that these should outnumber the military casualties by three to one (if this figure is correct), but this is, very sadly, unavoidable in modern war. The proportion has been the same in Iraq and Afghanistan, higher in Kosovo, and no doubt higher still in Chechenya and Sri Lanka.
5. Israel's government "bears most of the blame" for the lack of peace. But the very next sentence describes Hamas's "intransigence" and refusal of a ceasefire - an admission that, at the very least, both sides are equally to blame.
6. Netanyahu "quietly encourages new or expanded Jewish settlements". True but misleading, since no further land has been taken since the Oslo agreements, and since there is agreement between the two sides as to what should be done about the settlements (compensation and evacuation), and the main obstacles to peace are elsewhere.
7. "Only Israel can stop the dance of death." Israel can do nothing unless and until Hamas a) stop firing rockets and b) give up the aim of destroying Israel.
Harry Lesser, Bowdon, Cheshire