Israel on Wednesday said the time was not right for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and stepped up preparations for a possible ground offensive after Hamas’s long-range rockets hit another major population centre.
“If conditions will ripen and we think there will 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 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying.
“We didn’t start this operation just to end it with rocket fire continuing as it did before it began,” Olmert said, according to the aide. “Imagine if we declare a unilateral cease-fire and a few days later rockets fall on (the town of) Ashkelon. What will that do to Israel’s deterrence?”
Foreign pressure has grown on both sides to end hostilities.
France had proposed a 48-hour truce that would allow in more humanitarian aid for Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. Olmert made the remarks — which did not rule out a cease-fire in the future — to his security cabinet, which had rebuffed the plan.
Hamas said it was prepared to study proposals for a cease-fire.
“We are for any initiative that will bring an immediate cessation to the aggression and lift the siege entirely,” Hamas official Ayman Taha said, referring to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by the Islamist group.
Diplomats said the deadliest conflict in the Gaza Strip in four decades appeared close to a tipping point after four days of air strikes that have killed 393 Palestinians, at least a quarter of whom, U.N. figures showed, were civilians.