Israel has authorized its military to take all necessary steps to stop rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground operation, an Israeli military official said on Tuesday, as Egypt worked on a truce and said Israel had agreed to delay stepping up its response.
The government decision stopped well short of ordering tanks to roll into Gaza, and it appeared unlikely that would happen, as rocket fire all but stopped over the past day. The official said the decision authorized the military to act in accordance with the severity of Palestinian attacks, meaning that a ground offensive would be ordered only after massive rocket fire.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because no statement was made.
On Tuesday, Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority said that Egypt obtained an Israeli pledge to hold its fire while efforts were under way to persuade Palestinian militants to stop the rocket barrages.
This is the third case of Egyptian diplomatic involvement with Israel over the last month, after two prisoner exchanges. Israel has been concerned that Egypt's new rulers might toughen their line on Israel in accordance with opinion despite the 1979 peace treaty. Egypt's diplomatic activity might calm those concerns.
The sudden spike in violence began when militants in Gaza started firing salvos at Israel late last week, and Israeli retaliated with airstrikes. One Israeli civilian and at least 10 Palestinian militants were killed in the worst violence on that front in months.
The confrontation threatened to spiral into a larger conflict, and Egypt stepped in to try to restore calm.
"In the past few hours, Egypt saved Gaza from severe destruction and succeeded in securing Israeli restraint to give Egyptians time to reach a cease-fire agreement with Palestinian factions," Egypt's ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Othman, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned from the Knesset podium that Israel would operate "vigorously and resolutely" against those who would threaten its security.
"A security philosophy cannot rely on defense alone," Netanyahu said. "It must also include offensive capabilities, the very foundation of deterrence."
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said Israel's position has not changed.
The military said there have been no Israeli airstrikes since around midnight Monday. Two rockets were fired from Gaza during that time. The relative calm prevailed through Tuesday afternoon.
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