Middle East

How much popular support for Israel-Gaza conflict?

With Israel and militants in Gaza fighting in the latest conflict between them, civilians on both sides are suffering the consequences. Here, BBC correspondents in Jerusalem and Gaza City assess how much support there is for each side among their respective populations.

Kevin Connolly, Jerusalem

The message from one recent newspaper poll was clear; Israelis support air operations against targets in Gaza by an overwhelming majority - more than 80%.

But it is important to qualify that.

The Israelis I talk to - regardless of whether they are from the left or the right - all feel that they have been goaded into this confrontation by persistent rocket fire from the Gazan side.

Israeli civilians point to the psychological stress of living under that kind of threat in towns like Sderot.

As a foreigner, the question you get asked most is: "How do you think your country would react to being rocketed?"

And they all believe that their pilots and military commanders make every effort to avoid causing civilian casualties, where Hamas and Islamic Jihad are doing their best to cause them.

On that basis, Israel sees itself as having the moral high ground, even if its overwhelming superiority in firepower means that it is causing more civilian casualties than its enemies.

That same opinion poll suggested that popular support for a ground incursion would be much, much lower - closer to 30% than 80%.

The reasons are obvious. Putting in ground forces means putting troops in danger.

And if you are going to launch a ground incursion you need a strategy for getting out as well as one for getting in. It is not clear what Israel's would be.

And with the Middle East going through seismic, historic upheaval, it is not clear what the diplomatic fall-out of ground fighting would be - Israel's fragile diplomatic relationships with Egypt and Jordan would be severely strained and they are hugely important.

There is another factor too. Israelis will vote in a general election in two months time.

These air operations have probably helped Benjamin Netanyahu's bid for re-election even if that was not their goal. Ground operations, if they turned out to be messy or protracted, might have the opposite effect.

Jon Donnison, Gaza City

Ever since Hamas came to power here in 2007, it has had to tread a fine line between sticking to its resistance movement roots and the more pragmatic business of governing Gaza's population.

It has to provide jobs, schools, hospitals and other social services.

But more extreme groups in Gaza have, in recent years, accused Hamas of becoming too moderate and failing to fight Israel's occupation militarily.

Some of the criticism has come from within Hamas's own military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

This week's conflict has allowed Hamas to reassert itself.

On the violence, most Gazans are united in their opinion: Israel started this week's major escalation by killing Hamas's military chief Ahmed Jabari last week.

Even those who think Hamas's rocket fire is futile and brings suffering for Gaza, usually tell you Palestinian fighters are only defending themselves.

Out of Gaza's population of 1.7 million people, the movement has considerable support, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

The Islamist movement won parliamentary elections here, which were declare free and fair by the Carter Center, in 2006.

That said, like in many parts of the world, there are lots of people critical and mistrusting of their political leaders or apathetic.

Even the tens of thousands of people who work for Hamas are not always ideologically committed.

Some are just happy to have a job in a place where unemployment is high.

Hamas has been accused of human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest, torture and even murder in Gaza.

Others say the Islamist movement has persecuted supporters of its rival faction, Fatah, which it forced from Gaza in a violent conflict in 2007.

Hamas is also accused of corruption, stalling the Palestinian reconciliation process and delaying long-overdue fresh elections.

In Gaza and the West Bank, a lot of people tell you Fatah and the Palestinian Authority, in power in parts of the West Bank, is no better, or perhaps worse.

But despite these criticisms, just about everyone here says Hamas is only resisting Israel's occupation and fighting the ongoing blockade of Gaza, which restricts the movement of people and goods.

Hamas has a dilemma. Its original support was built on its willingness to fight Israel.

But if the movement wants Gaza to prosper and grow economically in the short term, it needs to avoid another war that it would certainly lose.

But in the long term, Hamas and its supporters are not going away.

And as the region shifts with Islamist movements gaining strength, most notably Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood - of which Hamas is an off-shoot - Hamas is feeling increasingly at ease and no longer so isolated

Its influence in the region is likely to grow.