AFTER subjecting the undefended civilian population of the Gaza Strip to air attacks and shelling by tank for 17 days, Israel has brought in reservists to launch an all-out ground offensive on the enclave. This marks the initiation of an urban war in the narrow and meandering streets of Gaza city, inhabited by over 400,000 people. Civilian casualties would thus multiply manifold. Enjoying US support and encouraged by the apathy of Muslim, especially Arab, governments Israel has defied the UN Security Council demand for a ceasefire. The death toll has already reached over 900, while thousands of injured civilians, a large number comprising children, lie in overcrowded hospitals, which have run short of medicines on account of the Israeli blockade. On Sunday, Human Rights Watch accused Israel's military of using the incendiary agent white phosphorus, as it had done during the war in Lebanon in 2006. A doctor said the chemical had caused victims' skin to peel off their faces and bodies. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has described the Gaza offensive as the Palestinians' Holocaust, has accused Israel of being the 'murder arm' of the US. Many would readily agree with the assessment, among other things, for the supply of these lethal weapons by the US, which include F16s, attack helicopters, drones equipped with Hellfire missiles and bunkerbusters employed by the Israeli army to destroy the tunnels used as a lifeline by the population under siege from land, air and sea, for nearly a year and a half. The Gaza offensive has the potential to further alienate pro-US governments in Arab and Muslim countries from the masses who have staged protests over the last 17 days. On Sunday, a protest march in Karachi was stopped by the police from proceeding to the US consulate, leading to a scuffle causing injuries to protesters. There were mammoth processions in two Algerian cities, Jakarta, Brussels, Madrid and a number of Italian cities. In London 100,000 people from various backgrounds protested. Hamas has rejected the Egyptian-French truce initiative for being insufficient and demanded the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the lifting of the blockade. These are just demands. Hamas had resorted to firing missiles to draw world attention to the inhuman blockade, which President Jimmy Carter had described as "one of the greatest human crimes now existing on earth." There is a need on the part of the western powers, which patronise Israel, to pressure it to stop the ongoing offensive. Unless they do so and move ahead to resolve the Palestine issue in line with the aspirations of a helpless nation in search of a state, the sufferings of Palestinians will continue to fan extremism in the Muslim world.