Israeli leadership split on Gaza war
JERUSALEM – The Israeli leadership is divided over whether to enlarge its war in the Gaza Strip amid increased international pressure to end its deadly offensive, officials said Thursday.
The differences surfaced during a meeting of the security cabinet on Wednesday, where ministers agreed to both continue the massive offensive and send a senior envoy to Cairo to discuss an Egyptian ceasefire proposal.
During the meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak were in favour of exploring the diplomatic channel while Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and several other ministers voiced a more hardline approach.
"During the meeting Ehud Barak came out in favour of a new truce while I and several other ministers were opposed," Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon told Israeli television.
Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against Hamas on 27 December with a massive nearly simultaneous bombing of targets across the coastal strip.
It followed with a week of air and naval strikes and poured ground troops into the territory on 3 January.
The security cabinet again approved all the stages of the operation, leaving it up to Olmert, Livni and Barak to decide whether to launch any successive stages, officials told AFP.
But they also decided to send a top Barak aide, Amos Gilad, to Egypt for talks on a proposal by President Hosni Mubarak on how to end the 13-day-old war, Israel’s largest military operation since the 2006 Lebanon war and one of its deadliest ever offensives in Gaza.
Speaking to the European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Wednesday, Barak hinted at his willingness to reach a ceasefire agreement.
"We want the operation to create a safer reality for our citizens in the south. We will not forego this goal. In order to reach it we will take every necessary diplomatic or military step," Barak told Solana.
"We will examine the possibility of reaching an arrangement, only if it will really create a new reality," Barak’s office quoted him as saying.
Livni, on her side, rejected any agreement that would implicate Hamas, saying it would legitimise the Islamists group, considered by Israel and the West as a terror organisation and which rejects Israel’s right to exist, officials told AFP.
The foreign minister has said on several occasions in recent days that Israel should end its Gaza offensive unilaterally and threaten deadly retaliation if militants renew attacks against Israel.
The war has sparked widening anger across the Muslim world as the civilian death toll from the strikes spiralled.
Since its start, Israel’s offensive has killed at least 704 Palestinians, including 220 children, and wounded more than 3,100 others, according to Gaza medics.
The civilian toll skyrocketed after the start of the ground offensive as Israeli infantry units shot at targets inside one of the world’s most densely-populated places.
On Tuesday Mubarak outlined a three-point plan Egypt was proposing to end the war in Gaza.
The plan included an "immediate ceasefire for a specific period" to allow humanitarian aid to pass; an invitation to Israel and the Palestinians to come to Egypt for talks on securing Gaza borders, reopening of its crossings and lifting an Israeli blockade; and a renewed call for Palestinian reconciliation talks under Egyptian mediation.
Egypt had brokered ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas that led to a six-month truce that expired on 19 December.
[AFP / Expatica]