Israel Rejects 48-Hour Gaza Cease-Fire Proposal

December 31, 2008 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Israeli officials said Wednesday morning the country had decided to reject an immediate 48-hour pause in a devastating five-day offensive against Hamas in Gaza. 

Israel’s leaders were facing growing international pressure to halt the assault. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed a cease-fire proposal floated by France’s foreign minister with his foreign and defense ministers overnight. 
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting’s contents were classified. 
The officials said the meeting ended with a decision to continue operations. A top forum of Cabinet ministers entrusted with security matters will discuss the continuation of the offensive Wednesday. 
Senior Israeli military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich told CBS News partner network Sky News on Wednesday, “according to us, the operation is still ongoing. There are still many more targets, and so we are not ready for a cease-fire at this moment.” 
Israeli jets and assault helicopters continued to pound suspected Hamas targets Wednesday through pouring rain as the Gaza Strip entered its fifth day of battle. 
Leibovich said “Israel practiced a very big amount of restraint for eight years,” in dealing with Hamas, but that residents in southern Israel continued to live under the constant threat of rocket attacks. 
“This we cannot allow anymore,” she said. 
Asked whether Israel had decided to invade Gaza, Leibovich said “ground forces are still on alert, still on the ready. Currently the operation is still on the aircraft and still on the Navy.” 
Even as talk of a possible cease-fire surfaced late Tuesday, Israel insisted Hamas had not been damaged enough and that it was still prepared to use its ground troops, if that’s what it deemed necessary, reported CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips from the Israel-Gaza border. 
“We will do whatever it takes,” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “We are ready to deepen and widen the operation in order to make sure that the calm and tranquility will come back to the region.” 
The dilemma that’s been facing the Israelis is not just if, but how to use their troops, reported Phillips. A full scale military reoccupation of Gaza is not on the table. 
The Israelis have been caught in that quagmire before, Phillips added. The last time Israel invaded Gaza, their fruitless occupation lasted 38 years. 
Olmert discussed the French cease-fire proposal along with other possible next steps with his foreign and defense ministers Tuesday night. 
Earlier Tuesday, Olmert told Israeli President Shimon Peres that the current, aerial phase of the operation was just “the first of several” that have been approved, an Olmert spokesman said. 
In its Tuesday night meeting, Israel’s leadership trio stepped up preparations for a ground offensive, conducting a telephone survey among Cabinet ministers on a plan to call up an additional 2,500 reserve soldiers, if required. Earlier this week, the Cabinet authorized a callup of 6,700 soldiers. 
After the four-hour meeting, Olmert’s office issued a statement early Wednesday saying no details of the discussion would be made public because of the sensitivity of the subject matter. 
European Union foreign ministers met Tuesday evening in Paris for urgent talks on the crisis, with France and Germany both seeking a cease-fire. 
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called leaders in the Middle East to press for a durable solution beyond any immediate truce. Mr. Bush spoke with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad from his office at the ranch in Crawford, Texas, to discuss ways to stop the violence. 
And members of the Quartet of world powers trying to promote Mideast peace concluded a conference call with an appeal for an immediate cease-fire. The Quartet powers are the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. 
Any cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would face questions about its long-term viability. In the past, Hamas has been unable or unwilling to rein in all the militants, some of which belong to different factions. Israel has angered the Palestinians by continuing to target its leaders and by maintaining a blockade of the Gaza Strip. 
“It’s certainly difficult for Hamas because, having witnessed the losses that they have just suffered on large scale, their credibility is on the line and they’re not going to easily agree to a cease-fire that goes back to the conditions that prevailed before, after all these losses,” said Shibley Telhami, professor of political science at the University of Maryland and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. “So, we’re likely to see more bloodshed, and I think that is where we are in a way, events on the ground are going to dictate.” 
Most of the 364 people killed in Gaza since Saturday, according to Palestinian officials, were members of Hamas security forces, but the number included at least 64 civilians, according to U.N. figures. 
During brief lulls between airstrikes, Gazans tentatively ventured into the streets to buy goods and collect belongings from homes they had abandoned after Israel’s aerial onslaught began Saturday. 
The campaign has brought a new reality to southern Israel, too, where one-tenth of the country’s population of 7 million has suddenly found itself within rocket range. 
“It’s very scary,” said Yaacov Pardida, a 55-year-old resident of Ashdod, southern Israel’s largest city, which was hit Monday. “I never imagined that this could happen, that they could reach us here.” 
Israel’s military said it hit 31 targets on Tuesday, including a Cabinet building, rocket-launching sites, and places were missiles were being built. Some of the hits on sites with weapons stockpiles triggered secondary explosions. 
The question still hanging over the Israeli operation is how it can halt rocket fire. Israel has never found a military solution to the barrage of missiles. The “Iron Dome,” a system to guard against short-range missiles, will take years to build. 
Beyond delivering Hamas a deep blow and protecting border communities, the assault’s broader objectives remained cloudy. Israeli President Shimon Peres acknowledged the challenge, saying the operation was unavoidable but more difficult than many people anticipated. 
“War against terrorists is harder in some aspects than fighting armies,” Peres said.
Source: CBS
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