Israelis, Palestinians hand Obama first challenge

JERUSALEM: It’s only inauguration day, but Israelis and Palestinians have already handed President Barack Obama his first international powder keg.

In Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, people are now waiting to see how the new U.S. leader handles it with differing degrees of cynicism, suspicion and hope.

Seemingly timing its withdrawal to Tuesday’s inauguration, Israel has already pulled most of its troops out of the ravaged Gaza Strip after a deadly three-week offensive aimed at halting years of militant rocket fire. But the crisis is not over, with reports of shooting along the border, and with Israeli soldiers poised to resume the assault if Gaza militants break a fragile two-day-old cease-fire.

As Americans gathered in Washington, D.C, to celebrate the beginning of Obama’s term, Gazans continued to pull their dead from the rubble. Across the region, rage at Israel has grown with a Palestinian death toll that Gaza health officials and the U.N. say has inched over 1,300, at least half of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis were also killed during the offensive.

Palestinians largely see the U.S. as tilted unfairly toward Israel, and many remain pessimistic about the new administration.


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