With French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Israel today to press for a cease-fire in the war with Gaza, some influential Israeli voices are calling for the government to heed the call. The country's most influential commentator, Yediot Aharonot's Nahum Barnea, wrote that while the air operation had been necessary to weaken Hamas, the ground war should halt before Israeli soldiers enter the refugee camps and cities, where Hamas guerrillas are waiting for them. "In the coming days, the government ought to heed its early misgivings about the operation and not its recent euphoria," Barnea wrote. The liberal newspaper Ha'aretz added its voice:
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Jerusalem today provides Israel with an exit ramp from the fighting against Hamas in Gaza. Sarkozy proposes declaring a lull in combat, which would test whether Hamas would agree to halt firing rockets. Israel would do well to respond affirmatively to the proposal, which protects its right to respond with force in the event the Palestinians continue firing from the Gaza Strip. The lull would also be a good opportunity to halt the ground operation and pull back the Israel Defense Forces to Israel proper. In its decision to deploy ground troops in the operation, Israel showed that it is not deterred from assuming risks to defend its citizens, and it proved that its army is not afraid of engaging "armed" Palestinians in combat. But it is difficult to understand the purpose of prolonging the ground operation, which is liable to end in a difficult entanglement and casualties.
Israel Presses Its Ground Assault on Gaza
However, the Israeli government, which turned down a French cease-fire proposal last week, is committed to fighting until it is assured of a long-term cessation of Hamas rocketing of Israeli cities and has given no indication that it is ready to go along with France's new effort. Ha'aretz reports:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday defended Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip, saying any nation seeking to survive would have take the same action.
"The operation is continuing as planned," he said. "Gaza is partially besieged and IDF forces have reached the targets assigned to them. The aim of the operation was to change the political and security situation in the south, Barak said.
Another influential commentator, Ron Ben-Yishai of Yediot Aharonot, reflected popular opinion that such an operation is necessary, despite the likely increase in casualties to Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians.
The ground operation that got underway Saturday is meant to complement and boost the achievements of the eight-day aerial assault. Hamas indeed sustained grave blows from the air, yet its leadership has not yet shown willingness to reach a long-term and stable ceasefire agreement on terms acceptable to Israel. Therefore, Israel needed to utilize another major military pressure lever in the Strip.
Just like the aerial assault, the next phase in this campaign - should everything go according to plan - depends on the progress of ceasefire efforts. The IDF will continue the ground maneuver until a truce is secured via a Security Council resolution or an agreement facilitated by a mediator.
Egypt Presses Hamas for Cease-Fire
While France works the Israeli side of a possible cease-fire, Egypt is working Hamas's side. Al Jazeera reports that Hamas is at least willing to listen:
Palestinian group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, has announced it will send a delegation to Egypt for ceasefire negotiations as diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Gaza intensified.
Ayman Taha, a Hamas official told the Reuters news agency on Monday that a group would head to Cairo "answering an Egyptian invitation to hold discussions".
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