Defense establishment to recommend pause in Gaza op
Security echelon said to suggest National Security Cabinet explore 48-hour interval in fighting in bid to assess Hamas' future intentions. PM reiterates Israel will not halt operation in Strip. 'We will hold fire only when it suits us,' says Hamas source
The defense establishment plans to recommend the National Security Cabinet explore various options for a temporary pause in the Gaza offensive in order to reassess Hamas' intentions.
Should, for example, Hamas be willing to accept the suggestion made by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for a 48-hour "humanitarian ceasefire," the defense establishment is willing to recommend the cabinet accept it.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was reluctant to explore the possibility of a ceasefire at this stage of the Gaza offensive.
The sources stressed that the IDF had not recommended a ceasefire; and that Monday's security assessment resulted in a decision not to apply any exit strategies, but rather to push for the completion of the operation's goals; and if need be – to expand it until Israel can guarantee peace for the Gaza vicinity communities.
Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the IDF's Southern Command's war room Tuesday afternoon and were briefed to the progress made in the offensive by Major-General Yair Golan, GOC Southern Command.
Speaking to senior officers at the briefing, Olmert stressed the Israel has no intention of ending the Gaza operation at this time. Olmert commended the Southern Command's officers and troops for their action and accomplishments.
Kouchner reportedly spoke with Barak about the possibility of a pause in Operation Cast Lead, twice since Tuesday morning.
Security sources said that suggestions the likes of the "humanitarian ceasefire" could make for a good opportunity to examine Hamas' moves.
Should the organization halt fire once the ceasefire window ends, actual armistice talks may be possible; however, if Hamas resumed fire, the defense establishment is likely to recommend a ground incursion in the Strip, perhaps in a scale which would include taking over large parts of Gaza in order to topple Hamas' regime.
"Hamas has to know that Israel is willing to explore scenarios leading to a ceasefire, but only of they lead to a long-term truce," said a security source, adding the organization is likely to try and reinstate some sort of lull by asking Arab, EU and UN elements to act as mediators between it and Israel.
The IDF Spokesman's Unit denied the reports, saying "these statements are untrue and were not corroborated prior to their publication."
The defense establishment presented the cabinet with Cast Lead's accomplishments so far: Four days in, the IAF has struck over 500 targets. Some 370 people were killed and hundreds more were injured, most of them Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees' operatives.
Since the Gaza offensive began, Hamas has fired 180 rockers and dozens of mortar shells at Israel – 75% of which landed in open area. A security course noted that the defense establishment was pleased with the way the operation was coming along.
One of the major accomplishments over the past four days was the destruction of two-thirds of the Strip's launching pads. The last third, said the sources, has yet to be targeted due to its vicinity to residential areas.
The defense establishment estimated that Hamas still has some 2,000 rockets in its arsenal, including several long-rage rockets which could potentially reach Ashdod and Beersheba.
Meanwhile,a senior Hamas source confirmed that the organization has been approached by several international elements, relaying a message to that effect from Israel, but the Israeli initiative, he said was rejected.
"This offer is meant to serve first and foremost the Israeli interest and help (Israel) out of the difficult situation it found itself in on the past two days. We will hold our fire only when it suits us. For now, the shahids' (martyrs) blood is preventing us from accepting this offer," he added.
Ron Ben-Yisahi, Roni Sofer, Hanan Greenberg and Ali Waked contributed to this report