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Can you update us on Israel's war in Gaza? 

Don't Panic ... Your war questions answered

The war in Lebanon has pushed several important news stories out of the headlines this summer.

For example, I didn't find out until today that July 31 was the 40th birthday of "Lois & Clark" hunk Dean Cain. America's fifth-most popular Superman of all time hits the big 4-0 and I miss it! Screw you, mainstream media!

The war also pre-empted what certainly would have been 24-7 CNN coverage of the 82nd NCAA Philippines basketball championship tournament. If you ask me, the story of this year's tournament is the success of the San Beda Red Lions, who continue to advance toward the title despite the fact that their coach, Koy Banal, briefly ditched them so he could sit on the bench with his pro team, the Purefoods Chunkee Giants. Good thing no one asked me.

In the rush to cover the goings-on in Lebanon, the American press also pretty much forgot that Israel was fighting a simultaneous war in the Gaza Strip.

Dubbed "Operation Summer Rains" by someone from the Israeli military's Bureau For Making Bloodshed Sound Oddly Pleasant, the mini-war in Gaza started June 28 in the wake of two kidnappings.

Israel says that war is a response to the June 25 kidnapping of an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit. Shalit was at an Israeli army post near the Gaza border when militants who entered Israel via a secret tunnel captured him and took him to Gaza.

Palestinians say the war's inaugural kidnapping happened the day before, when Israeli forces snatched brothers Osama and Mustafa Muamar from their Gaza village. Israel says the men were Hamas militants prepared to carry out an attack on Israel. The pair are sons of Hamas activist Ali Muamar, but Hamas denies the duo themselves are Hamas. It was Israel's first raid in Gaza since last summer's pullout.

Argue if you wish about the war's trigger event, but there's no dispute that on June 28, Israel started pounding Gaza from the air with tanks and artillery. More than 200 Palestinians, more than 40 of them children, have been killed in Gaza since Operation Summer Rains began. Electricity and fresh water are scarce because Israel has targeted Gaza's public works. And Gaza's never-actually-very-strong economy is in ruins, thanks to an Israeli blockade.

Like the war in Lebanon, the war in Gaza is about more than the kidnappings that triggered them. As it did with Hezbollah, Israel raided Gaza with the intention of taking out Hamas' rocket force. Hamas has a much smaller, weaker rocket arsenal than Hezbollah, but it's enough to scare, anger, frustrate and occasionally kill Israelis. Hamas rockets have little-to-no military value, but they do have enormous political value. Let me 'splain.

With the backing of the Bush Administration, Israel has largely abandoned the idea of negotiating a peace settlement with Palestinians. Instead, it has adopted a policy of drawing a border of its choosing and protecting it with a giant, concrete wall.

Last summer, Ariel Sharon pulled Israeli settlements out of Gaza. He planned to do the same in the West Bank but was felled by a stroke earlier this year. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, took up Sharon's plan and won Israel's election on the promise that he would carry out the plan.

Palestinians don't like the Israeli plan, in large part because they don't like where the wall goes. A lot of the land Palestinians want for their eventual Palestinian state is on the Israeli side of the wall. Hamas rockets from Gaza are a message. The message: You're not going to have peace unless you negotiate a settlement.

Israel's war with Hezbollah reinforced the same point. Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2000. Instead of leading to peace, it allowed Hezbollah to build up its rocket force along Lebanon's border with Israel. Thanks to Hamas and Hezbollah, Israelis no longer see withdrawal as a prelude to peace. They see it as the creation of a military vacuum that will be filled by militants.

Olmert has, for now at least, halted the planned unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank. Whether the next step is renewed peace talks or just more war remains to be seen.

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