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Published: Friday, 6/16/2006

The Gaza beach tragedy

THE tragedy at the beach in Gaza is another roadblock on the so-called road map to peace for Israelis and Palestinians, leaving peacemakers in despair. Complicating the matter are new detours on the Palestinian side that threaten to further agitate the seemingly futile odyssey to find co-existence between sworn enemies.

Last week's tragedy, which killed seven members of a Palestinian family enjoying a picnic on the beach, worsened conditions in the Middle East and sparked an international outcry for answers.

Enraged Palestinians said the deaths were caused by Israeli artillery shelling. Israel later declared that its own internal inquiry exonerated it of any blame.

Israeli officials suggested the carnage on the beach was caused by a land mine planted by Hamas as a trap for Israeli commandos. That claim was in turn doubted by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and investigators at the scene from Human Rights Watch.

Hamas and the Fatah party also rejected the Israeli explanation - but that's about all the two rival factions agree on lately. They're fighting each other almost as fiercely as they do Israel over control of Palestinian policy and political survival.

All of this "he said, he said" controversy surrounding the tragedy was exacerbated only four days later when a fresh Israeli air strike in Gaza killed two militants and nine civilians, with two children among the dead.

Israel says it was trying to stop a planned rocket attack, but Palestinian leaders called the military strike "state terrorism" and demanded an international inquiry.

The deadly struggle for dominance is aggravated by the international economic sanctions imposed after Hamas came to power in March. Government coffers are empty, leaving the Palestinian Authority unable to provide basic services or pay thousands of government workers.

Hordes of angry protesters stormed the Palestinian parliament building in the West Bank City of Ramallah Wednesday, demanding long overdue salaries and screaming "We are hungry."

And so it goes until the next provocation produces more bloodshed and misery for innocents on both sides.

Even so, the road map may not be obsolete. There appears to be another attempt to find a way out of the perpetual violence by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. The two have agreed to talk about a plan that calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

In effect the proposal would recognize the Jewish state, a huge hurdle for Hamas, which has vowed to destroy it. If the talks fail, President Abbas has called for a July 26 referendum on the plan, over Hamas' objections.

While all this is sorted out, this much is clear: no cease-fire will ever hold as long as the desire for revenge trumps peace.

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