The fierce attack on Gaza by Israel that has wreaked enormous damage has now been going on for well over two weeks. Shattering air strikes signaled the start of the operation; though aimed at individuals and facilities associated with the radical Hamas group that rules in Gaza, these attacks have claimed hundreds of civilian victims. The stifling blockade imposed in conjunction with the air assault has led to serious shortages of medical supplies and of food and fuel. In a crescendo of violence over the last few days, the attacks are reported to have increased in intensity while simultaneously Israeli ground forces have moved into Gaza to strike at targets in the territory, thus making matters even more difficult for the inhabitants. Hamas fighters have put up some resistance but nothing that can be regarded as a serious impediment to the measured Israeli advance. According to present indications, matters can only get worse, for the ground forces are moving into heavily populated parts where the likelihood of bringing harm to civilian residents is magnified. Already the estimated death count in the burning and battered neighbourhoods is over 900, a large part of them civilians unconnected with Hamas. The humanitarian tragedy to be seen in Gaza demands international intervention so as to protect the lives of the teeming innocents exposed to terrible danger. Had this been happening anywhere else, we would by now almost certainly have witnessed firm international action to halt it and bring the situation under some sort of control. Unfortunately, this has not so far been possible in the Middle East. The international community is badly divided and blind to the all-too-visible humanitarian issues. It is only after much effort by the UN and some deeply concerned countries, France prominent among them, that a brief pause has been permitted by the attackers. This provides a minimum respite but is calculated not to ease the military pressure or give significant relief to the besieged population. Conditions have deteriorated to the point that the International Committee of the Red Cross, which ordinarily shuns any sort of public comment in such situations, has felt it necessary to call for restraint and has pointed to Israel's transgression of international codes that apply to armed forces during conflict. Pressures for an end to the assault may be building up but until now Israel has been able to maintain its adamancy because it retains the virtually unconditional backing of the USA. Others may press for restraint but not the USA. US spokespersons have laid the chief blame on Hamas for provoking the Israeli action. The fact that there are few to follow the US lead in this matter has not acted as a deterrent to the policy makers in Washington; even among the closest allies, it is only the UK that has echoed what the USA has been saying while important EU and NATO members have been much more guarded in their reaction. With the US backing it, Israel has as yet faced no strong pressures to hold back or to amend its aggressive strategy. Behind the immediate humanitarian issue that fills the news media, there are deep-rooted and unfathomably intricate divisions between and within nations and societies that continue to feed this most intractable of problems. There is a whole range of complex points at issue, each with its own long history and associated passions. Moreover, opinion among the different communities involved is constantly fluctuating, which makes it all the more difficult to work towards mutual accommodation. Among the Palestinians, the division between Gaza and the West Bank has only become more intense in recent years. Fatah, indelibly associated with the late Chairman Yasser Arafat, was once dominant throughout the Palestinian territories but in the last election of a couple of years ago it lost out in Gaza to Hamas, which is more radical and less tainted by a long spell in office. These two major political formations keep a wary eye on each other and their rivalry can be unsettling within the region. It has been argued, for instance, that the ending of the six-month ceasefire by Hamas that proved to be the precursor to the current war owed something to the internecine competition between the two. On the other side of the divide, the reasons for the disproportionate response of the Israeli armed forces to Hamas rocket strikes from Gaza are also difficult to understand. Many commentators link it to the forthcoming Israeli election for which the incumbent government is trying to improve its rather tarnished image. Thus on both sides far-reaching actions could have been driven by narrow calculations. Looking further out into the Arab world, many divisions become apparent. Several conservative countries have been critical of Hamas but radical nations have been supportive. It is thus a complicated regional patchwork which makes any advance towards a truce that much more difficult. Moreover, it is not clear what Israel is aiming at and what it expects to achieve as a result of its current offensive. Few Israelis wish to reoccupy Gaza which proved to be an expensive place to dominate when Israel controlled it directly through its army. Israel's war aims for the current operation are contradictory, if one assesses the statements made at different times by its spokespersons. Notwithstanding the many complications in finding a way out, violence in Gaza must end and the Israeli offensive brought to a halt. The humanitarian problems caused by the hostilities cannot be addressed without an end to the fighting. Nor should the international community ignore the harsh realities on the ground. In this respect, the lead given by the UN and its Secretary General needs to be pursued actively. Palestine's future is not to be decided by force or by military intervention, as many earlier conflicts have amply demonstrated. Each military encounter has thrown up a new generation of freedom fighters, increasingly radicalized and ready to act on their own. As it is, the search for negotiated peace between the contending states has become almost impossibly complex, and the situation will become even more complicated if further radicalized groups join in the fray. Unfortunately, there has been a retreat from any early hope of a revived peace process, which is seen on all sides as the only way forward. It is the statesman's task to get back to that process and try to give it momentum. India has no central part to play in these events. But it cannot sit on the sidelines as it has tended to do over the last few years when the Arab-Israeli question comes under consideration. In the present circumstances, it needs to join more forcefully in the general call for a truce and for an end to the sufferings of the people of Gaza. The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary. The article is simultaneously published by The Nation and The Statesman of India