Israeli offensive enters critical stage

2012-11-19 18:02
Israeli border guards take position during clashes with Palestinian protestors in the centre of the divided West Bank city of Hebron. (AFP)

Israeli border guards take position during clashes with Palestinian protestors in the centre of the divided West Bank city of Hebron. (AFP)

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Tel Aviv - Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip entered a critical stage on Monday, heading for either a truce which would stop the fighting, or a major escalation with ground troops sent into the salient.

Analysts said the coming 24 hours will be crucial as Egypt tries to mediate a truce between the sides, who, publicly at least, are refusing to compromise on their demands.

"The situation is now 50-50, between ceasefire and expansion of the operations," an unnamed Israeli official told the Ha'aretz daily.

Israel insists Hamas agree to stop firing rockets for a protracted period - 15 years was the figure given by the Israeli media - as well as end to the smuggling of weapons into the Strip, or their manufacture there.

Hamas for its part wants Israel to agree to end its siege of the Strip, and commit to refrain from targeting militant leaders.

Attacks

Each side is also demanding that the other stop firing before any truce can be agreed on - something which so far has shown no sign of happening.

Israel launched the operation after its southern towns villages have been repeatedly targeted by rockets over a period of years.

With the offensive prompting unprecedented new missile attacks and with even the previously-immune Tel Aviv and Jerusalem now targeted, Israeli leaders would find it very difficult to sell a truce which leaves open the possibility of the violence recommencing almost before the damage from the current round is cleared away.

"We don't want to go to a ground offensive, for a number of reasons ... and if this can be avoided, great," deputy foreign ministry spokesperson Paul Hirschson said.

But he said an offensive would be launched if Israel thought it had no other way to get Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups to stop their rocket fire on Israel.

Ground troops

Israeli leaders were reported on Monday to be reluctant to commit to sending in the ground troops, even though media reports - the military would not give a figure - said 40 000 reserve soldiers have so far called up.

Any ground invasion will only complicate an offensive whose casualties -almost exclusively on the Palestinian side - are rapidly rising.

And a rise in Palestinian casualties means a concomitant rise in the pressure on Israel to end the operation before the aims have been achieved.

It also erodes the support Israel is so far enjoying from Western countries, who have already indicated they do not want Israel land forces to enter the salient.

Goal

On the other hand, Israel has made it clear that it will send in the troops if necessary and if it does not receive a firm commitment that rocket fire on Israel will not resume within weeks or months.

An Israeli government official who spoke to dpa on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to talk to the media, said the ultimate aim of the Israeli offensive is to get the rocket fire to cease.

The military has a bank of targets to help it achieve this aim, he added, and these targets would be attacked - by air and if necessary by land -until the aim was achieved.

The bottom line, he said, was that Israel was going to get the militant groups to stop the rocket fire, "either via an agreement, or because we destroy their ability to do so".

- SAPA
Read more on:    gaza strip  |  palestine  |  israel  |  middle east peace
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