Barak seeks to promote week-long 'humanitarian cease-fire' in Gaza
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is promoting a week-long "humanitarian cease-fire" in the Gaza Strip. In contrast, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert believes the military operation still has not achieved its goals.
Olmert is delaying a meeting with senior ministers in an effort to allow the military operations in Gaza to continue.
Yesterday, Olmert did not meet with his "troika" - Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, both of whom support a cease-fire. Today, he will not convene the political-security cabinet to discuss whether the operations should go on.
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces continued advancing from the northern Gaza Strip toward Gaza City. It is also concentrating forces to potentially deepen the ground offensive.
In northern Gaza, an officer was seriously injured by an improvised bomb. Two other soldiers suffered light to moderate injuries.
In yesterday's fighting, the IDF killed at least 50 Palestinians, putting the total body count from the 18 days of Operation Cast Lead at 970. Many of the dead are civilians.
The IDF also destroyed a tunnel built by Hamas close to the fence, near Nahal Oz.
The head of the political-security bureau at the Defense Ministry, Amos Gilad, has postponed a visit to Cairo for talks on a cease-fire, and will probably depart for Egypt only tomorrow.
Responding to a call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for an immediate cease-fire, Barak said yesterday, "We respect the request of the UN Secretary General and are following developments with the Egyptian initiative. However, the fighting is continuing."
A senior political source explained yesterday that even though Olmert holds a minority view in the troika, he holds the power because he decides when cabinet meetings will be held, and sets the agenda. The troika is a monitoring and coordinating body, and lacks the authority to broaden or end IDF operations. This can be done only by a cabinet vote.
Barak believes Operation Cast Lead has achieved its main objectives, first and foremost bolstering Israel's deterrent power. He does not believe continuing the offensive will bring further gains, but rather only operational complications and casualties.
On this point, Barak accepts the view of GOC Southern Command Major General Yoav Galant that expanding the operation and occupying Gaza would require a lengthy deployment - possibly up to a year.
Barak is proposing the IDF cease its fire, hold its positions and keep the reservists under arms, and thus negotiate with Egypt and the United States on an arrangement that would include preventing arms smuggling into the Strip.
The defense minister is concerned that when U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office next Tuesday, he will demand that Israel immediately cease the operation. A tough UN Security Council resolution is also a risk.
Livni insists Israel must end the operation without an agreement, enjoying its refreshed deterrence against Hamas. She also believes the mission cannot obtain any more major gains.
Meanwhile, senior IDF officers expressed concern yesterday that continuing the fighting would increase the number of casualties.
Also yesterday, an Iranian vessel bearing an estimated 200 tons of humanitarian supplies turned away from Gaza. Iran says Israel forced the vessel away; Israel says it took no action against it.