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Gaza: The conflict heard round the world

The world weighs in on the explosion of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

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Protesters march in London to call attention to the plight of the Gaza Strip. (Frantzesco Kangaris/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — As divided as Israelis and Palestinians are, the world is also significantly split.

Negotiations toward a cease-fire deal accelerated as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Jerusalem Tuesday. But the weeklong rocket barrage to and from the Gaza Strip has already reverberated around the globe.

Here's a look at how people and governments around the world are reacting to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East.

The United States

America's stalwart political and public support for Israel remains undiminished. Geopolitical shifts in the Middle East, most notably the Arab Spring, have not reduced Washington's economic, military or social support for the Israeli cause.

As of March 2012, Israel had received $115 billion from the US in bilateral aid, most of it in the form military assistance. A report by the Congressional Research Service entitled, "US Foreign Aid to Israel," said Israel was the "largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II."

Every US president reaffirms the country's support for Israel and its security. On Sunday, President Barack Obama from Bangkok voiced uncritical support of Israel’s right to defend itself:

“There's no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” Obama said. “So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.”

However, the Obama administration cautioned its ally against waging a ground assault that would escalate the violence.

Still touring Asia, on Tuesday he sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem to help broker a diplomatic solution, after a week of violence in Gaza that only seemed to be escalating.

A CNN/ORC International poll, taken from Nov. 16 to 18, suggested 57 percent of Americans think Israel's attacks on Gaza are justified, though support is far from unanimous. On Nov. 16, demonstrators gathered in front of the White House to protest for a free Palestine. "What do we want. Justice! When do we want it? Now!" they shouted.

The CNN/ORC poll concurs with decades of American support for Israel, as evidenced by the collection Gallup Polls taken on issue.

Middle East Sympathies, Full Trend, 1988-2011

— Daniel DeFraia (follow @ddefraia)


The European Union

LONDON — The hostilities between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have sorely tested European allegiances as leaders struggled to balance support for the Israelis against public outrage at the mounting death toll.

Countries with traditionally strong ties to Israel have tempered expressions of support with appeals for restraint, some warning that further escalation could result in the Jewish nation being deserted by its international friends.

Turkey, once counted by Israel as a rare Muslim-populated ally, responded with a forthright declaration of the enmity it has felt since Israel's 2010 military operation against a flotilla of boats carrying aid to Gaza.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Israel's air raids on Gaza marked it as a "terrorist state" guilty of "terrorist acts."

In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron condemned Hamas rocket attacks as "unacceptable" and urged his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netenyahu, to do "everything possible" to end the crisis in Gaza.

William Hague, the UK's foreign minister, said Hamas bore "principal responsibility" for the violence, but warned that an Israeli ground offensive could "lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation."

In several UK and other European cities, including Berlin, Rome and Paris, pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets to voice anger at Israel's bombardment of targets in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian sentiments are strong across much of the continent. A recent poll found that a majority of Europeans back an Israeli-opposed bid for Palestinian recognition at the United Nations.

From France, where official support for Israel may no longer be as explicit as in the days of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, there were official appeals for caution.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called for a halt to hostilities while Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, paid a visit to Mahmoud Abbas, the acting head of the Palestinian authority.

Italian President Mario Monti expressed his concern about the escalating violence without attributing blame to either side. Italy recently cemented its military ties with Israel with an $850 million deal that will see its defense group Finmeccanica supply aircraft.

There was less equivocation in Germany, a country whose leader Angela Merkel has previously sided with Netenyahu's opposition to a unilateral Palestinian statehood bid. Merkel’s spokesman Georg Streiter explicitly blamed Hamas for the outbreak of violence.

Meanwhile, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative, condemned the rockets fired by Hamas, but then clambered back onto the fence to “call on both sides to refrain from exacerbating the situation.”

— Barry Neild (follow @barry_neild)


Latin America

LIMA and RIO DE JANEIRO — Latin American leaders have called on both Israel and the Palestinians to step back from the violence, and in particular avoid civilian deaths.

Nevertheless, reflecting the majority view in the region — that heavy-handed repression by Israel is the principal cause of the conflict — the request appeared aimed more at Tel Aviv than Gaza.

After a telephone plea from Egypt’s new leader Mohamed Morsi, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff contacted United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express concern over the violence in Gaza and urged the UN to work toward peace there, Brazil’s state media reported.

Meanwhile, Mercosur, the trading block made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, issued a short statement calling for all sides to show restraint and asking the United Nations Security Council to intervene.

“The path to overcoming the present crisis lies through diplomacy and dialogue,” it said.

The text largely came across as a model of neutrality. But there were two clear exceptions. One was an attack on the “disproportionate” use of force, apparently a reference to Israel’s response to the Hamas rockets.

And another sentence left no doubt that Mercosur did not see any moral equivalence between the two sides’ demands, by noting that its members supported “the request of the Palestinian State to acquire observer status at the United Nations.”

That reflects a long-standing demand from Latin American governments for the rest of the world to join them in recognizing the Palestinian Territories as a state.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, an ally of his Iran counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was predictably more blunt.

In a speech placed online by his government, Chavez complained of Israel’s “aggression against the Gaza strip” and accused Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of acting in a “savage” manner for bombing the crowded enclave.

Chavez’s words might have carried more weight had he not previously backed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as Syria’s “legitimate” leader, even as his desperate clinging to power has bathed Syria in blood.

Uruguay, possibly the Latin American country with the largest Jewish community relative to its national population, made no official statement of its own.

However, the Movement of People’s Participation, one of the parties that make up Uruguay’s ruling left-wing Broad Front alliance, issued an outspoken statement rejecting the “policy of extermination” that it alleges Israel is implementing in Gaza. It also noted that the majority of victims of the clashes were Palestinian women and children.

Although he has made no public comment so far, the MPP is the party of Uruguay’s president, Jose Mujica, an octogenarian former leftist guerrilla.

The statement went on: “We regard as disproportionate the use of force by the State of Israel, provoking in the Palestinian territory, and in particular the Gaza strip, a constant deterioration in living conditions and the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians.”

Meanwhile, most Latin American news coverage focused far more heavily than many US media on the suffering in the Gaza Strip.

Typical of the reporting was this article in Clarin, a leading newspaper in the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, home to Latin America’s largest Jewish population. The article, titled “The death of babies and children, the darkest side of the war in Gaza,” includes a graphic photo of the corpse of a 5-year-old girl being carried from the rubble.

The report highlighted information from nonprofit Save the Children that half of Gaza’s 1.7 million population are children, many of whom have been trapped in their homes without electricity, water or food for long stretches.

It noted that 25 schools, two clinics and one hospital have so far been damaged by the Israeli bombardment.

Simeon Tegel (follow @SimeonTegel) from Lima, Peru. Taylor Barnes (follow @tkbarnes) contributed reporting from Brazil.



HONG KONG — Given China’s long history of supporting the Palestinians’ cause, it is no surprise that its official stance on the latest outbreak of violence tilts in their favor.

On Monday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the press that the government urged both parties, “especially Israel,” to reach a cease-fire and “exercise maximum restraint.”

Even while improving relations with Israel, China has repeatedly reiterated its support for Palestinian sovereignty and called for its recognition by the United Nations. 

Among ordinary Chinese, however, matters are less clear. If anything, Chinese people following the conflict online appear to harbor a strong strain of sympathy for Israel. 

On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, one user shared re-circulated Chinese op-ed from 2005 that criticized Hamas for not wanting a Palestinian state at all. (“To put it bluntly, Hamas is most afraid of building a Palestinian state,” the piece argues. “They know what fate they will face once it is founded.”)

The post generated hundreds of replies, most of them in support of Israel. 

“I’ve always supported Israel, I always believed in its real strength before the world!" said one user in Beijing. "I hope that we will report on Israel objectively. We only hear about the number of Palestinian casualties, and not why Israel opened fire.”

Others drew parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and China’s own history of rule by non-Chinese emperors. (The Yuan dynasty was founded by Mongols, the Qing dynasty by Manchus.)

Responding to a pro-Israeli post, one user argued that if Chinese people were going to admit Israel's claim to sovereignty, then "by the same logic," the Mongols should set up their capital in Beijing.

— Benjamin Carlson (follow @bfcarlson)