Leading article: Gaza again on the brink

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Israel said that its latest air strikes on Gaza were a response to the proliferation of rocket attacks in the past month.

They also followed the deaths of two Israeli soldiers in clashes with Palestinian fighters last week. But while the specific reasons for Israel's action clearly matter, the bigger picture is that tensions between Israel and Hamas-ruled Gaza are clearly mounting and the causes are the very same as those that precipitated Israel's reinvasion of the territory at the beginning of last year.

There are those who forecast a new all-out Israeli assault on Gaza that could be even bloodier than the one in 2009. Given that this notoriously heavy-handed and widely condemned intervention failed to produce the desired effect of security in southern Israel, however, it is hard to see how a second attempt would have much chance of success. For the time being, it is probably more likely that Israel will retaliate from the air, but not risk its troops on the ground.

The trouble is that the wider political stalemate only fosters more of the same. The extent to which Hamas can control its own militants has always been in doubt. But it is surely no coincidence that the rocket attacks from Gaza recommenced in earnest as the most recent attempt to restart Israel-Palestinian talks, like its predecessors, ran into the sand. The meeting in Washington last week between President Obama and Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, only confirmed that there was no meeting of minds.

As so often, the few signs of hope have been blighted by mistiming. By accident or design, Israel approved new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem just as the US Vice-President arrived there and shortly after Fatah, which governs the West Bank, received Arab League backing to return to indirect talks with Israel. There are a very few straws here for Mr Obama and the international Quartet to hold on to. But it is important they should not give up. Even if the prospects for peace look as poor as they have ever done, a watchful eye is better than none.