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An Israeli soldier directs a Merkava tank being loaded on a carrier truck at an unspecified location near the Israeli border with Gaza on Aug. 6. / Abir Sultan, epa

As Israel and Hamas see whether it's possible to extend a temporary truce into a longer-term deal with the help of Egyptian mediators in Cairo this week, each side can claim a partial victory in its four-week-long conflict.

Each side has also paid a heavy price.

Israel's military succeeded in neutralizing Hamas militarily. It protected its population - but for three civilian deaths - from thousands of rockets fired by the U.S.-designated terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip. The Israel Defense Forces said its ground operation launched July 17 destroyed much of Hamas' arsenal and 32 tunnels the militants used to infiltrate Israel, though how many weapons and usable tunnels remain is uncertain.

"The Iron Dome defense system provided Israel a tremendous military victory," said Richard Straus, editor of the Middle East Policy Survey newsletter. "It was a game-changer."

Hamas fired rockets with longer ranges than in previous conflicts, but the Iron Dome prevented those headed for major cities, such as Tel Aviv, from causing significant damage. "That allowed the Israeli military to go after the tunnels without fear of mass Israeli casualties," Straus said. Israel said it lost 64 soldiers in addition to the three civilians killed.

Israel's military success came at the cost of international outrage, mass destruction in Gaza and nearly 1,900 Palestinian lives, mostly civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Even staunch allies such as the United States condemned the death of hundreds of children and IDF attacks on United Nations schools used as shelters.

Israel has countered that Hamas hides weapons in populous areas and uses civilians as human shields, claims backed up by the U.N. refugee agency. Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his military's actions "justified" and accused Hamas of engaging in "child sacrifice."

That has not lessened the uproar. "It doesn't take many pictures of dead babies to stir up anti-Israeli sentiment," Straus said.

Though Hamas largely failed as a fighting force, it did succeed in raising the Palestinian cause again before the eyes of the world - at Israel's expense. And it put back on the negotiating table its demand that Israel and Egypt end an economic blockade that has squeezed Gaza for years.

Hamas' political fortunes sagged badly last year, when Egypt's military overthrew President Mohammed Morsi, a key Hamas ally, and shut down Hamas' tunnels into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Those tunnels were the militant group's last source of economic supplies. Closing them in 2013 made life in Gaza increasingly worse and Hamas' political standing increasingly weaker.

The latest fighting has alienated Hamas even more from many Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which view Hamas and other militant groups as threats to their own regimes' hold on power.

Hamas' chief goal at the negotiating table is to get the economic blockade lifted. "It is hoping the Palestinians suffered enough casualties to bring international pressure on Israel and Egypt to end the blockade," Straus said.

If Israel and Egypt refuse to budge, he said, "it's hard to see Hamas coming out of this with anything at all."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Analysis: What Israel and Hamas each won -- and lost

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