Israel's top leaders rejected a proposal for a cease-fire with Hamas today, rebuffing global pressure and continuing to pound Gaza for the fifth straight day.
The proposal called for a 48-hour halt on attacks, with a goal of implementing a more durable cease-fire. But after discussing the truce overnight, Israeli officials decided to reject the plan. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the assault's goal was to change the situation with Hamas permanently and that the cease-fire would not do that. A halt in operations would allow Hamas to rearm and reorganize, he said.
Officials have said privately that they want Hamas to agree to stop its rocket fire before Israel begins the process of calling a cease-fire. And an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Washington Post that the proposal didn't come with a way to enforce the truce. "It does not contain any guarantees," he said.
In the absence of any agreement, the air and sea assault continued. Palestinian officials say that about 391 Palestinians have died in the airstrikes, and the United Nations says that number includes at least 62 civilians. More than 1,700 people have been injured.
Four Israelis also have been killed by rocket fire. Rockets from Gaza are reaching more deeply into Israeli territory than ever, putting 860,000 Israelis in range.
Although it rejected the cease-fire, Israel did say that it remained open to the possibility of a truce at some point. It also said that it would allow 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies to go into Gaza. That's on top of the 4,000 tons allowed in since the campaign began. U.N. humanitarian chief John Holmes had called those supplies from Israel "wholly inadequate," saying that the medical supplies were just enough to cope and that fuel stocks had been depleted. Other countries, including the United States, Britain, China, Norway, and Iran, have pledged humanitarian aid to Gaza.
In a separate move, Israel's Supreme Court ordered its government today to allow international media into Gaza. Israel had increasingly restricted journalists from entering the strip over the past two months, and it closed the border completely when it began bombing on Saturday. The court said the government must allow up to 12 journalists to enter any time it opens the Erez crossing into Gaza.
The cease-fire proposal came from the French foreign minister, following calls by the Quartet—the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia—to implement an immediate truce.
For Washington, the conflict has necessitated particularly careful diplomacy. American officials publicly have been strongly supportive of Israel and say a cease-fire will work only if Hamas first proves that it won't restart its rocket attacks. But they're wary that this conflict could turn out like the 2006 war with Lebanon. Most observers believe that the Israeli assault on Hezbollah there strengthened enemies of the United States while undermining international support for both the United States and Israel. Still, U.S. pressure on Israel to agree to a cease-fire in Gaza has so far been unsuccessful.