As President Obama prepares for his first visit to the Middle East in his second term, the region is getting if anything a little more tense. A rocket was fired from Gaza into Israel yesterday for the first time since the November truce. The WSJ reports:
Militants claiming affiliation with the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a violent offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah, movement took responsibility.
Hamas government spokesman Ehab Ghussein denied a rocket was fired, indicating Hamas was trying to distance itself from the incident. In the past, militant splinter groups have fired rockets at times when Hamas tried to discourage such attacks.
The militants said in an email to journalists that they fired the rocket to avenge the death of a Palestinian in Israeli custody. It was impossible to independently verify the claim of responsibility.
Secretary Kerry is trying to keep expectations low for the presidential visit, saying that the President plans to “listen” and “consult” rather than “tell everybody what they have to do.” That sounds wise, as neither Israelis nor Palestinians are in the habit of obeying orders from Washington. A little more of this in the first few months of the President’s first term might have helped him avoid four wasted years; we are encouraged that the White House is approaching the region more cautiously and, well, diplomatically this time around.
The wild card this time is Syria; the civil war next door has managed to displace even the Iranian nuclear program as the issue that worries the Israelis most. American policy toward Syria is anything but clear; it will be interesting to see whether President Obama is able to leverage Israeli concerns over Syria and Iran to get the new coalition government in Jerusalem on board for a serious approach to the Palestinians.
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