Published on 19 Nov 2012 Sections , ,

Gaza conflict: the key questions

With speculation that an Israeli ground attack on Gaza is imminent, Channel 4 News looks at how the conflict began – and how it could end.

With speculation that an Israeli ground attack on Gaza may be imminent, Channel 4 News looks at how the conflict began and how it may end (Reuters)

To explain the origins of the crisis, there are those who would be tempted to go back to 1917 (the Balfour declaration), 1948 (the establishment of the state of Israel) or 1967 (the Six-Day war), but our focus is on recent weeks.

How did the latest conflict begin?

Israel endured weeks of rocket attacks from Gaza before its air operation began on 14 November. These rockets were fired by Hamas, which runs Gaza and is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and EU, and Islamic Jihad.

Israel upped the ante by assassinating the leader of Hamas’s military wing, Ahmed Jabari, saying he was behind the rocket attacks and it had a duty to protect its own citizens. In response, Hamas said Israel had “opened the gates of hell”.

What do Israel and Hamas gain from the violence?

Critics of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu say he is using the situation to increase his support ahead of elections in January, although it can also be argued that he is already the most likely victor in these elections and could have more to lose than gain from a military campaign that proves unpredictable.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank is pushing for enhanced status at the UN on 29 November: from observer entity to non-member observer state.

This is part of a wider diplomatic manoeuvre to achieve eventual statehood for the Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

Becoming a non-member observer state would allow Palestine to join the International Criminal Court and bring cases against Israel.

The statehood bid is being handled by the PA on behalf of the Palestinian people, not Hamas. While the PA does the diplomacy, Hamas does the fighting. This may be what is spurring on the Hamas leadership as the conflict drags on.

How has the Middle East changed since the last Gaza attack?

In 2008-9, no-one was expecting the 2010 Arab Spring: the deposing of autocratic rulers and free elections in countries including Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Egypt – like Israel, a recipient of US aid – is now led by Mohamed Mursi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement.

When the new Egyptian government was elected, there were questions about whether it would respect the peace treaty the country signed with Israel in 1978, given that Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt is supporting Hamas in the current conflict, but is doing so politically, not militarily. President Mursi has criticised what he called Israel’s “blatant aggression against humanity”, while Hisham Qandil, the prime minister, has visited Gaza to lend his backing.

Cairo is now hosting peace talks with Hamas and Israel.

Israel’s relations with Turkey, formerly its only Muslim ally, have come under great strain in recent years. Islamists are also in charge in Ankara and Turkey’s ability to help bring an end to the violence has to be questioned.

Who is arming Hamas?

Hamas has been firing Iranian-made missiles at Israel, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel is trying to protect itself with the Iron Dome missile interceptor, funded by the US.

How many people have been killed?

Ninety-four Palestinians and three Israelis have died so far. In one aerial attack on a house in Gaza, nine members of the same family were killed by mistake.

Israel, and other countries for that matter, may have sophisticated, modern weaponry that is designed to minimise civilian casualties. But there is always a danger non-combatants will be killed.

What happens next?

With speculation that a ground operation is imminent, Israel has mobilised up to 75,000 army reservists.

Launching a ground attack is on the table unless a ceasefire can be negotiated, but Israel knows it will face international criticism if its actions against Hamas and Islamic Jihad are deemed disproportionate.

Of course, the build-up of troops near the Gaza border could also be designed to show Hamas that Israel means business in the hope this might avert an invasion.

Foreign Secretary William Hague blames Hamas for the current situation, but has said an Israeli ground invasion would be hard to support.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said a ceasefire depends on Hamas ceasing its rocket attacks. Hamas has said Israeli attacks and assassinations must end.