Just when it seemed there was hope of moving forward on a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, an upsurge of blood-letting has erupted in the Gaza Strip. Toughened efforts by Israeli troops to stop rocket attacks by Islamist Hamas militants could well turn US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's mission to the region this week from one of furthering the process to a scramble to salvage it. Israel has every right to protect its people from the rockets, which killed a civilian in the country's south on Wednesday, the 14th such death since hostilities between the sides flared anew in September 2000. Since the latest death, hundreds of Israeli troops have poured into Gaza and pounded suspected rocket and ammunition positions, with dozens of Palestinians, many of them civilians, killed. The rules of armed conflict are clear: civilians must never be targeted. But Hamas' lobbing of rockets into Israel ignores this, while its placing of munitions among ordinary people makes Israel's efforts to end the threat it faces without harming civilians impossible. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for an end to the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed not to stop the fight and Hamas militants are continuing to fire rockets. For all Israel's resolve, it will not, in the present circumstances, be able to stem Hamas' threat. Efforts to turn Gazans away from the group through blockades of supplies and closing Palestinian workers' access to Israel have only hardened support for the militants. Nor is the freezing of Hamas from the peace process, which is being driven by rival group Fatah, going to bring peace to the region. Hamas, which broke from a Palestinian coalition government and seized control of the Gaza Strip last June, will continue to refuse to recognise Israel's right to exist and work for its destruction. Luring Hamas into peaceful politics is the only way forward. This will comprise prisoner exchanges, determining who controls Gaza's borders and a willingness by the group to be a peace partner. But immediately, there has to be a ceasefire between its fighters and Israel. Then will come earning respectability through actions. Insisting that Hamas change its ways in the present circumstances is not going to happen. Its leaders have to be coaxed into peace and this can come about only through Dr Rice, other western negotiating partners, Israel and Fatah thinking of the militants not as combatants, but negotiating partners.