Violence between Israel and Palestinians flares up

Israel finds itself facing both security and diplomatic challenges, with Cairo declaring that it will withdraw the head of its mission in Tel Aviv, putting at risk already faltering relations between the two countries.

Tension is running high inside the Jewish state as well, with mass protests by Israelis against the government’s economic policies.

Meanwhile, the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians led international mediators from the so-called Mideast Quartet – the UN, US, EU and Russia – to call on Egypt to help its neighbors establish a cease-fire.

Cairo had been insisting on a formal apology from Israel for the inadvertent killing of three Egyptian soldiers on the border, demanding not only an expression of regret but a commitment from Israel that such would not happen again.

On Saturday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he regrets the deaths of the three Egyptian border guards who were killed. He had also said that he had ordered an immediate investigation.

However, tensions on the ground are intensifying quickly. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed in the past few days and dozens have been injured, while today alone some 70 Grad and Qassam rockets rained down on southern Israel, with dozens of Israelis injured.

It was the heaviest salvo of rockets from Gaza since Israel staged an all-out ground and air operation in Gaza to stop daily rocket attacks in early 2009.

There are a lot of concerns here in the region that this conflict is escalating and will only continue to intensify.

Activists have started gathering in Tel Aviv and in at least in another five or six cities around Israel. They believe that the government is hoping that this escalation of violence will distract attention away from social and economic problems at home. However, activists believe that the exact opposite is going to happen.

They plan to hold a silent march in memory of people on the both sides of this conflict who have died in the last few days of violence.

The Mideast Quartet issued a statement condemning the attack on Thursday that killed eight Israelis and sparked the spiraling violence. The diplomats also called on Israel to stop its attack on Gaza. Arab leaders are to meet on Sunday to discuss the situation.

Palestinians fear that the Israeli government will use this latest round of violence to argue that there should not be recognition of a Palestinian state, which will be discussed next month at UN headquarters in New York.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has already said that the violence is proof that Palestinians are not serious about peace. Palestinian leaders declared in response that Israel’s position is “madness.” They say that Israel is trying to gather international support in order to prevent Palestinians from declaring their own state come September.

The violence began when attackers from Gaza ambushed vehicles in southern Israel on Thursday, killing eight people. Israel carried out multiple air strikes on militant targets in Gaza over the weekend, killing at least seven suspected militants on Friday.

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