Israel is ready for a ground invasion in the Gaza Strip but prefers a diplomatic solution, a senior official close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
said on Monday.
"Israel is prepared and has taken steps, and is ready for a ground incursion which will deal severely with the Hamas military machine," the official told Reuters.
But he added: "We would prefer to see a diplomatic solution that would guarantee the peace for Israel's population in the south. If that is possible, then a ground operation would no longer be required. If diplomacy fails, we may well have no alternative but to send in ground forces."
The official's language echoed that of US President Barack Obama, who said on Sunday it would be "preferable" to avoid a move into Gaza. Obama also said Israel had a right to self-defence and no country would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens.
The Egyptian prime minister said Monday that Egyptian negotiators could be close to achieving a deal between Israel and the Palestinians to stop the fighting could be close.
"I think we are close, but the nature of this kind of negotiation, (means) it is very difficult to predict," Hisham Kandil said in an interview in Cairo for the Reuters Middle East Investment Summit.
Egypt's foreign minister is expected to visit Gaza on Tuesday with a delegation of Arab ministers to express solidarity with the Palestinians.
The rocket salvo on southern Israeli towns continued on Monday. By 2 pm, some 60 rockets were fired from Gaza towards the Jewish state. The cities of Ashdod, Beersheba and Gan Yavne as well as the regional councils of Eshkol, Bnei Shimon and Shaar Hanegev were among the areas targeted. Israel, meanwhile bombed dozens of targets in Gaza.
Earlier Monday, Minister Silvan Shalom
said the decision about the expansion of the IDF operation in Gaza to a possible ground offensive will be made within a day or two.
"There is a clear plan for a ground deployment as well as a partial entrance alternative," he said. "Another alternative is full deployment and an exit at a later stage. It is also possible we'll go in and stay there."
Minister Moshe Ya'alon, meanwhile, asserted that Israel "won't stop our fire until there is calm."
The minister explained that "it was the other side that opened fire after the disengagement, even after the IDF and Israeli civilians left the Strip. We as a government have said all along that if there is no threat from the Strip, we won't operate there. But if terrorist attacks are initiated from there and rockets are fired from there we will act to thwart them."