The World's Quil Lawrence reports on protests in the West Bank over the Israeli offensive in Gaza, and about divisions among Palestinian factions over what to do next.
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JEB SHARP: I'm Jeb Sharp. This is The World. Despite an international push for a cease-fire, the violence continued today in Gaza. Israeli aircraft and tanks kept pounding at targets throughout the Palestinian territory. There were several reports of new civilian casualties. One report said seven members of a Gaza family were killed overnight by an air strike. Meanwhile, Hamas, too, has continued to fire rockets into Israel. Palestinians in the West Bank held demonstrations today to protest the war in Gaza. The World's Quil Lawrence reports from Ramallah.
QUIL LAWRENCE: Several thousand people turned out for a protest in the West Bank capital of Ramallah today. The theme was supposed to be unity between rival Palestinian factions in support of the people of Gaza. Still, it was easy to see divisions in the crowd. One side carried yellow flags with pictures of President Mahmoud Abbas. Another group seemed to be more sympathetic to Hamas, but in previous demonstrations, those raising Hamas flags had been severely beaten by police. Instead, today they borrowed a flag from Venezuela. The crowd praised Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and even carried his picture. Chavez expelled the Israeli ambassador this week to protest the war in Gaza. The crowd might have been suggesting that Arab countries much closer to Gaza haven't done as much. But most of the factions agree that it's an adjacent country, Egypt, that will play a key role in working out a cease-fire. Saberi Sidem, an advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas, was at the rally today.
SABERI SIDEM: The Egyptians have been exercising restraint. They have been patient. They've been putting a lot of emphasis on the importance of bringing Palestinians together, and I think they're being successful so far in addressing the issue head-on. As you know, there's representatives of Hamas that are currently in Cairo undergoing talks with the Egyptian government.
LAWRENCE: It's a very fine line for Egypt, which controls the border crossing at the southern end of the Gaza Strip. Cairo has been criticized for not allowing doctors and medical supplies to go in through the border. The Egyptian public has demonstrated in favor of Gaza, but Cairo doesn't like Hamas anymore than Israel does, says George Jekyman of Birzeit University in the West Bank.
GEORGE JEKYMAN: They do not want an Islamic emirate or government next to them. You have to keep in mind that Egypt internally has had long-standing problems with the Muslim Brotherhood movement, of which in some sense, Hamas is an extension.
LAWRENCE: Since Egypt is stuck next to Gaza, says Jekyman, they strongly prefer that Hamas be brought under the control of the Palestinian Authority. That makes Cairo a big proponent of Palestinian unity. In fact, reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is seen as Egypt's key demand in order to help broker a cease-fire. A big obstacle is that Israel will not conduct face-to-face negotiations with Hamas. Hamas is still formally dedicated to the destruction of the entire Jewish state. Last year, Egypt acted as a go-between and brokered the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which lasted until December. The next peace treaty will need more specifics, but it's still unlikely the two warring parties will sit at the same table, says former Israeli diplomat Zvi Katar.
ZVI KATAR: Well, Egypt is in a way acting as a kind of a broker in this situation. They are putting Israel on one side and Hamas on the other side as kind of equal partners in the whole thing. They're dealing with both of them in a way, directly, while Israel is not, doesn't want to talk with Hamas and doesn't talk with Hamas. And that is something which is not agreeable by Israel
LAWRENCE: Egypt is said to be working first on a cease-fire and then on Palestinian reconciliation as a second stage of talks. That might eventually bring Hamas into some sort of deal to control Gaza's borders. But talk of the Egyptian deal is all theory at this point. Israel has shown no signs of halting its offensive in the Gaza Strip and Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel as the casualties pile up in the streets of Gaza. And Palestinian unity doesn't look much closer, either. After less than an hour at today's unity march, scuffles broke out between Hamas supporters and the police loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Several arrests were made, and then tear gas sent much of the crowd running home. For The World, this is Quil Lawrence, Ramallah, the West Bank.