MOSCOW: Israel was condemned yesterday by much of the Arab world while securing Western backing and pressing its biggest air assault on Gaza for years amid a wave of Palestinian short-range rocket fire.
Iran and Egypt - its new Islamist leaders under pressure to build closer ties with the Palestinians at the cost of a 30-year peace deal with the Jewish state - led the angry protests against strikes that left at least 15 dead.
“The Israelis must understand that we do not accept this aggression, which can only lead to instability in the region,” Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi said in televised remarks.
Iran - accused by Israel of being the Gaza militants’ main supplier of rocket power - branded the Israeli strikes as “organised terrorism” conducted by “criminal... Zionist (Israeli) military forces.”
And the increasingly influential Arabian Peninsula state of Qatar warned starkly that the “vicious attack (on Gaza) must not pass unpunished” and demanded urgent action at the United Nations. An emergency UN meeting concluded yesterday without a decision and clear signals of concern over the first escalation of Middle East violence since the 2011 Arab Spring altered the political map of the historically volatile region.
Russian President Vladimir Putin urged both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinians to avoid escalating the violence as Moscow worried about the fighting spreading to other regions of the volatile Arab world.
“The president of Russia called on the parties to exercise restraint and avoid the path of escalating violence, whose victims include civilians, and to do everything to return the situation to its normal course,” the Kremlin said following a telephone conversation between Putin and Netanyahu.
But Moscow also criticised the “disproportionate strikes on Gaza” while calling for cooler heads.
Moscow’s reaction openly clashed with the understanding approaches of Israel’s position adopted by both Britain and the United States.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Hamas “bears principal responsibility” for the surge in Gaza violence and accused the group of creating an “intolerable situation” in the south of Israel where its rockets are falling.
Washington meanwhile rose to the Jewish state’s defence despite earlier signs of strains in relations between US President Barack Obama and the conservative Netanyahu.
“We support Israel’s right to defend itself, and we encourage Israel to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian casualties,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. The tit-for-tat attacks and prospects of a possible ground invasion of Gaza prompted Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to cut short a tour of Europe aimed at winning support for his attempts to upgrade his territory’s UN status next month.