Two days after their last soldiers returned from Gaza, Israelis are asking increasingly whether the offensive had achieved anything other than spawning a new generation of potential suicide bombers.

The three-week war enjoyed massive popular support at the time but, with the guns silent, scathing criticism is emerging from the Left and the Right of Israel’s political divide.

The stated goal of Operation Cast Lead was to end Hamas’s constant rocket fire on southern Israel and weaken the Islamists’ grip on the territory. It has failed to achieve either. Hamas kept up its barrage of rockets to the very end of the campaign and has won new recruits for its cause.

In Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Sabah Abu Halima, her body covered with burns from what are believed to be phosphorus shells, her husband and four of nine children dead, dreams of becoming a suicide bomber.

“I pray to Allah that I will have revenge, I pray and dream of killing myself among the Israelis,” she says. “I hope that on the last day of my life I kill as many of them as possible and make myself a martyr.”

Israel had hoped that its offensive would sow discontent with the Hamas movement, which had promised to turn the coastal territory into “a graveyard for Israeli soldiers”. Nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed and thousands more wounded, according to local medics, while only 13 Israeli soldiers died — a statistic which allowed Israel to proclaim itself the victor of the war.

The casualties have failed to dent support for Hamas, with many in the hardest-hit Gaza neighbourhoods pledging their allegiance to the Islamists. There have been muted calls for Hamas to show more flexibility in its ceasefire negotiations with Israel and allow time for residents to recover and rebuild their homes but most feel that Hamas has gained political and international legitimacy in recent weeks.

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