JERUSALEM: One month after Israel was wracked by Hamas attacks, life has been upended for both the Palestinians and Israel after it launched a war of reprisal in the Gaza Strip.
The October 7 attacks by Hamas militants who stormed across from Gaza and struck kibbutzim and southern Israeli areas killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and deeply scarred the nation.
Images of charred and mutilated bodies invoked comparisons to the horror of the Holocaust, and the abduction of more than 240 people by the Hamas gunmen continues to stir political and emotional turmoil.
Gaza -- a territory of 2.4 million people packed into one of the most densely populated areas on Earth -- has been transformed into an apocalyptic battleground by air strikes and ground assaults after Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas.
The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says nearly 9,500 have been killed, two-thirds of them women and children, and mostly civilians.
Al Quds, the most widely read Palestinian daily, said “Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of innocent people”.
“It feels like we have to pinch ourselves to make sure that this is truly the new reality,“ the left-wing Israeli daily Haaretz wrote this week.
“The change wrought by the war is total: in losses of life and in damage, in anxieties, in the country’s agenda and in the total upending of old political conventions from every possible aspect.”
- ‘Powder keg’ -
Fears have mounted of a possible regional conflagration. Iran, an ally of both Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon, has warned the situation risks spiralling “out of control” in a Middle East transformed into a “powder keg”.
A Pentagon spokesman said the United States is “concerned about all elements of Iran’s threat network increasing their attacks in a way that risks miscalculation, or tipping the region into war”.
US military advisers are in Israel and two American carrier groups have been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean.
As tensions increase, the Israeli army is on alert on its northern border with Lebanon too.
Breaking a month of silence on Friday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “all options” were open for an escalation of the conflict on the Lebanese frontier with Israel, while at the same time blaming the United States for the war.
Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said he did not think Hezbollah would escalate the fighting, telling the BBC “a broader regional conflict has been deterred”.
However, Avi Melamed, an Israeli specialist on Middle East relations warned: “Hezbollah could set fire to the region.”
“They have a military capacity ten times superior to the Hamas cell,“ he told AFP. “It could inflict grave damage on the state of Israel.”
The Israeli army says they are also prepared to confront any escalation in the West Bank, occupied since 1967 and the scene of more intense violence since the Gaza war erupted.
- ‘Radicalisation’ -
Israel was once lauded for its military and intelligence prowess, but that reputation was drastically harmed by the October 7 attacks.
“I don’t sleep,“ said Sarit Zehavi, a mother of three and a reserve lieutenant-colonel who fears Hezbollah will copy Hamas and infiltrate in the north to “kill, massacre”.
For Gaza resident Omar Ashur, who was eight years old in 1948 when the state of Israel was created, “what’s going on is dangerous”.
He fears the violence will provoke “a second Nakba”, referring to the mass exodus of about 760,000 Palestinians, according to United Nations figures, that followed the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948.
“Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas,“ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this week.
Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida has vowed that “Gaza will be a cemetery and quagmire for the enemy”.
According to Claude Klein, former dean at the law faculty of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, “the possibility of a peaceful settlement is very remote. I don’t see anything positive on the horizon.
“What happened on October 7 strengthened those in Israel who say there are no interlocutors for peace.”
For former Palestinian minister Ghassan Khatib, who teaches at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, “radicalisation has reinforced each side of the conflict and has led to a deep disbelief in a peaceful solution”. - AFP