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Barak says Tel Aviv is ready to 'enlarge' operations

Video by Marian HENBEST

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-01-01

Defence Minister Ehud Barak says Israel is determined "to enlarge and deepen" its military operations in Gaza until its objectives have been achieved. Israel's security cabinet earlier rejected international proposals for an immediate ceasefire.

Read the FRANCE 24 Observers on "Is the Israeli intervention justified?"


Watch our Face Off debate 'Gaza: how far will it go?'


Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday that Israel is determined "to enlarge and deepen" the scope of its military operation in Gaza "until we have achieved the objectives we have set for ourselves."


A senior official quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying, "We did not launch the Gaza operation only to end it with the same rocket firing that we had at its start."


As the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip continued for a fifth day on Wednesday, the Israeli security cabinet rejected international proposals for a truce.


After a five-hour meeting held in Tel Aviv, the security cabinet rejected the idea of a truce with Hamas, arguing that the current conditions were not right for a ceasefire.


"If conditions will ripen, and we think there can be a diplomatic solution that will ensure a better security reality in the south, we will consider it. But at the moment, it's not there," an aide quoted Olmert as saying.

Map of Gaza.  Picture: AFP


The security cabinet, called to review a series of international proposals for a truce, concluded that the French proposal for a 48-hour ceasefire on humanitarian grounds was unrealistic because it would not guarantee the end of the Palestinian rocket fire. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner pushed the idea of a humanitarian truce after a meeting Tuesday night in Paris with his European Union counterparts.

“The proposal wasn’t entirely rejected but if we want a realistic truce plan, we need certain guarantees to restore stability in the south of Israel,” Ygal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told FRANCE 24.

“We’re not looking to occupying the Gaza Strip, but our objective is to bring back a sense of normalcy to the Israelis who live in the south.”

Palmor added that Israel still intended to examine other ceasefire proposals while another Israeli official suggested that France may make amendments to its plan. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to meet French President  Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris Thursday. The French president could visit Israel on his way to Lebanon on Jan 6.


The Arab League is also holding an emergency session on how to deal with Israel’s Gaza offensive. Speaking to reporters Wednesday,  Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa called for an immediate meeting of rival Palestinian factions.
The latest casualty count since the aerial onslaught began on Saturday is 384 dead and more than 800 wounded, according to Palestinian medical sources. A UN agency said at least 62 of the dead were civilians.

Hamas attacks into Israel continue
A precarious calm descended on Gaza early on Wednesday. According to FRANCE 24’s Gaza correspondent Radjaa Abou Daga – one of the few journalists reporting from inside the enclave – "attacks inside Gaza city have stopped but not in the north and the south of the Gaza Strip."

 But the attacks failed to put an end to Hamas rocket attacks into Israel – the original cause of the latest Israeli offensive. At least four people – including an Israeli soldier – have been killed by Hamas rocket and mortar attacks since Saturday.

About forty Israeli strikes targeted ministry buildings in Gaza early on Tuesday.  Credit: AFP Photo


Reporting from the Eretz crossing at the Gaza border, FRANCE 24 correspondent Lucas Menget said Hamas still had resources. “We just witnessed a Qassam rocket fire behind us. Three rockets were fired toward Beersheba this morning, two of them exploded in the desert. This tends to prove that Hamas still has resources.”


According to the Israeli military, two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit the city of Beersheba on Tuesday, 42 km inside Israel – the deepest such attack yet by militants, who have allegedly launched more than 400 rockets across the border since Saturday.


The Israeli army is still barring any foreign journalists from entering Gaza, making it difficult to fully assess the situation inside the Hamas-held territory.

The Israeli operation killed more than 360 people in four days.  Credit: AFP Photo


Signs of divisions in the Israeli cabinet


Hamas was cool to the idea of a truce. It said it was up to Israel to stop firing and lift the blockade of Gaza.


"You can't equate the victim and the jailer," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was quoted saying to reporters. "What is required at this time is an Arab and international effort to stop the (Israeli) aggression and open the (border) crossings.”


And within the Israeli cabinet, there were growing signs of divisions on the prospect of a ceasfire deal.


FRANCE 24’s Jerusalem correspondent Marc de Chalvron said Defence Minister Ehud Barak was more inclined to accept the French proposal. “He thinks that the aerial offensive is coming to an end. He’s already discussed it twice with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner after initially opposing it.”


Meanwhile, Israeli ground troops are still said to be readying for a possible incursion.


If a ceasefire were to be accepted, its enforcement could take a few days, leaving time for Israeli ground troops to take a few forays inside Gaza, even briefly, says Chalvron.

To read our 'Observers' account on Israel's high-tech weaponry, click here.


Note:  Because of the high number of user reactions to the Gaza conflict, we are posting only a selection on the site. Please keep your reactions short, relevant and civil. (See our Rules of Conduct.)





Date created : 2008-12-31