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Israel Rejects Truce Proposal

Israel has said “No” to France’s proposal for a 48-hour “humanitarian truce” in Gaza:

Israel on Wednesday rejected a French proposal for a 48-hour cease-fire in the Gaza Strip to allow the flow of humanitarian aid into the bombarded coastal territory. …

“That proposal contained no guarantees of any kind that Hamas will stop the rockets and smuggling,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. “It is not realistic to expect Israel to cease fire unilaterally with no mechanism to enforce the cessation of shooting and terror from Hamas.” …

“There’s no such thing as a ‘humanitarian cease-fire’,” an Olmert aide said Tuesday. “Gaza is not undergoing a humanitarian crisis. We’re constantly supplying it with food and medications, and there’s no need for a humanitarian cease-fire.”

It sounds, however, as though Israel gave the French proposal serious consideration and may go along with a similar initiative in the near future. The AP’s account quotes an Olmert spokesman:

Overnight, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed a 48-hour truce proposal floated by France with his foreign and defense ministers. The meeting ended with a decision to continue the punishing aerial campaign.

“Giving Hamas a respite just to regroup, rearm is a mistake,” Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said. “The pressure on the Hamas military machine must continue.” …

The AP’s account of Hamas’ reaction suggests a truce would be pointless:

A Hamas spokesman said militants wouldn’t halt their rocket and mortar fire until Israel ended its blockade. “If they halt the aggression and the blockade, then Hamas will study these suggestions,” Mushir Masri said.

Israel fears that opening crossings with Gaza would allow Hamas–which remains officially committed to Israel’s destruction–to strengthen its hold on the territory even further.

Of course, Israel imposed the blockade in the first place in response to Hamas’ rocket and mortar attacks.

Last night, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet gave ministers a positive account of the impact of the aerial attack so far:

“Hamas has been attacked as it has never been attacked before; it has suffered serious damage and its governability in Gaza has been severely impaired,” Diskin told ministers at a meeting of the security cabinet.

The Shin Bet head added that many of Hamas’s senior activists were hiding out in mosques and hospitals in Gaza, some of them in the guise of doctors and male nurses.

“Some of them have turned dozens of mosques into command and control centers on the assumption that Israel won’t attack those places,” he said. “Their development laboratories have been completely destroyed. Their tunnel system has sustained heavy damage. Hamas is trying to utilize [what remains] so that their operatives can escape to Egypt.”

Meanwhile, Israel has opened one of the crossings into Gaza to allow caravans carrying humanitarian aid access to the Strip.

UPDATE: Obliterating the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza has been a key objective of the current stage of the bombing. This photo shows the Palestinian end of a destroyed tunnel, and conveys a sense of how large and professionally constructed they are. Note the guy standing in the middle of the photo:

capt.bfed614f39db4a88a3c4360102b58fdf.mideast_israel_palestinians_jrl138.jpg

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