How many deaths does it take

Last week, we expressed hope that the words spoken at the Aqaba summit would amount to something, and that the baby steps taken to implement the road map would lead somewhere. Anywhere — we weren't picky.

But it only takes a terrorist attack or two and a botched assassination attempt to make it seem like the words of peace were spoken years ago and not just last week.

The combined effort of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aksa Martyr's Brigade to kill four Israeli soldiers Sunday led to the Israelis' Tuesday attempt to kill Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi, which led to Hamas bombing a bus in Jerusalem on Wednesday killing at least 16, which in turn led to Israel sending helicopter gunships into Gaza, killing two Hamas leaders later that day. And that was only by the time we went to press.

Hamas knows exactly what it is doing every time it bombs a bus; its leaders know full well they can expect retaliation. And, unfortunately, the Israeli government knows the same thing. While its leaders may believe that taking out a terrorist leader here or there is a good thing in the long run, it's bound to provoke another attack in the short run.

So where does all this get us?

To those of us watching from afar, it all seems so senseless, and we can only sit back and watch in horror as the body count mounts on both sides. Those who watch the Middle East closely all pretty much know what the end result will be — the only question is how long and how many deaths will it take to get there?

We wish we could say definitively what is needed.

But since we can't, we will continue to hope President Bush and his administration will stay fully engaged, because his help is needed now more than ever.

We hope Palestinian leaders will continue to acknowledge Jewish suffering, and that Israeli leaders will continue to acknowledge Palestinian suffering, as they did so admirably at the Aqaba summit. That in itself was a huge breakthrough.

And we will continue to hope that calm, rational minds will prevail, and that eventually, there will be peace.