The decision was made following a security consultation held by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Tel Aviv and is possibly related to the tendency to give the diplomatic efforts one last chance.
However, any security escalation, such as the firing of Qassam rockets, or any other incident in which Israelis are hurt, may lead to a change in plans.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said earlier that "we are now in one of the most significant moments in terms of determining the rules of the game between us and the terror groups in the Palestinian Authority in the near future."
Firing on Gaza (Photo: AFP)
Peretz approved the plans and the only remaining question is how and when they will be implemented.
The IDF operation in Dahaniya in south Gaza is limited. The minute the large troops enter northern Gaza, the operation will take a new aspect, including the deployment of the Air Force.
Another sign that Israel has not lost faith in diplomacy came in the form of a conversation between Peretz and Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman.
Peretz asked that Egypt use its sway Palestinian groups to return the kidnapped soldier alive, and convince Palestinian commanders to halt rocket fire.
Peretz said earlier that although diplomatic efforts are yet to bear fruits, dipomacy may gain momentum.
"I wish to send a message to every sovereign state who is responsible for terror elements acting within its territory that we don't need to make a list every morning of who's a terrorist and who isn't," Peretz said. "I hope that everyone who has influence on the Hamas leadership, from Haniyeh to al-Zahar and Khaled Mashaal, will use it immediately, because the sooner it is acted the better. Return the soldier, stop Qassam fire. If this happens, we will return our soldiers to their bases," he said.
IDF cannon in Nahal Oz area (Photo: Reuters)
During a ceremony at the Hatzerim air base, IDF Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General Dan Halutz said: "Air Force people, you are doing your professional duties at the highest possible level. Yes, there are mistakes sometimes from which we learn and correct. We didn't choose terror."
Halutz said Israel should not wait for citizens to be killed in terror attack emanating from the Gaza Strip before launching a defensive operation, warning Palestinian terrorists that the army will get them before they launch their attacks.
"The citizens of Israel cannot allow themselves to become hostages of terror rockets and kidnappings of soldiers and citizens," he said.
The decision to postpone plans for a ground incursion into northern Gaza comes as the foreign ministers from the group of eight industrialized nations called on Israel to show restraint and expressed concerned over the latest escalations during a meeting in Moscow.
"We confirmed our support for the Quartet ... and called on the parties to take all the necessary steps to calm the situation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, referring to the group of Middle East peace mediators — Russia, the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union.
"With restraint, perhaps we can get back to a place where there can be hope for a peaceful resolution," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a news conference attended by the eight top diplomats.
Peres: Hamas members will stand trial
Vice Premier Shimon Peres told CNN: "We have no intention of entering Gaza to reoccupy it, but someone has to implement law and order there. There are many groups operating there, firing rockets at Israel for no reason. We want the Palestinians themselves to be in control. We left Gaza willingly and we paid a heavy human and financial price."
Peres was asked why would members of the Palestinian government be arrested if not to be used as bargaining ships?
"Because terror groups are trying to extort Israel. They have to decide if they are a legitimate government or members of a terror group. Their arrest is not arbitrary. They will stand trial and they will be able to defend themselves," he said.
"There was hope that Hamas would change its policies once in government and will become more responsible. They are a big disappointment. They became part of their terrorist arm, they have been acting as they always did, and they believe Israel will suffer from this quietly.
"We left Gaza completely. There isn't a single soldier in Gaza. They can manage Gaza without our interference. But instead they crossed the border, they kidnapped one of our soldiers for no reason and killed another two, so if we ignore this, it will become a habit," he explained.
Peres was also asked why exert collective punishment against the Palestinian people for the release of one soldier.
"It's not one soldier. It is a policy. Hamas wants to kill any chance for peace and to forward terror as an alternative for peace. We are carrying out this operation with utmost carefulness. Until now not a single person was killed in Gaza. It is not by coincidence. It is because our army made sure this doesn't happen. It is all in the hands of the Palestinians. They are punishing themselves for no reason, believe me," Peres concluded.