Following the international criticism following the Israel Defense Forces strike near a United Nations school in Jabalya, which left dozens of people killed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday night announced the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" for the Gaza Strip.
According to the announcement, areas in the Strip would be opened for limited periods of time to allow the Palestinian population to equip itself and receive aid.
The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that since the start of the military operation in Gaz,a hundreds of tons of equipment, goods and food have been transferred to the Strip in similar amounts to those transferred before the operation.
The PM's Office admitted, however, that it has become difficult to deliver the aid to the civilian population due to the fighting.
Olmert spoke to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday night and briefed her on the diplomatic and military developments in Gaza. The two also discussed the humanitarian situation in the Strip, and Olmert updated Rice on his decision to open a "humanitarian corridor".
On the backdrop of the growing international pressure on Israel, the National Security Council will convene Wednesday to decide whether the ground stage of the military operation has reached its goals.
Based on this decision, the cabinet will decide whether to deepen the fighting and move to the third stage of Operation Cast Lead – bringing the tens of thousands of reserve soldiers into the battle in order to tighten the rope around Hamas' neck.
The ministers will listen to IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin before making a decision on the matter. Should Israel decide that it has reached its three goals – ceasing terror attacks from Gaza, halting the smuggling and international supervision which will guarantee that this continues – it will turn vigorously to the diplomatic channel.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced his ceasefire initiative on Tuesday evening at the end of his meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
State officials fear, however, that failing to end the military operation on time will lead Israel to a long stay in the Gaza swamp. The diplomatic goal is an arrangement imposed on Hamas, in light of estimates that the terror organization has been defeated militarily.
Jerusalem gives no importance to a possible anti-Israel Security Council resolution, saying that the UN will not stop the fighting.
The leading diplomatic initiative as far as Israel is concerned is the American one, in cooperation with Egypt, the Palestinians and Israel. This initiative, however, is not sufficient at the moment, and state officials are unaware of an initiative which could be accepted at this time.
Nonetheless, the limited cabinet - which includes Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – and the National Security Cabinet are expected to approve the continuation of the diplomatic talks in order to be able to use them when the time is right.