Israel Rejects Truce Calls, Presses on With Gaza Offensive
JERUSALEM - Israel on Wednesday rejected world calls for a truce and vowed to push on with its deadly Gaza offensive, as warplanes pounded Hamas targets for a fifth day and the Islamists shot back with rockets.
"The cabinet decided to continue with the military operation," a senior government official told AFP after a six-hour meeting of the country's security cabinet.
"We did not launch the Gaza operation only to end it with the same rocket firing that we had at its start," he quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as saying.
"If the conditions are ripe and we think that they might offer a solution that will guarantee a better security reality in the south then we would weigh the issue. We are not there yet."
Amid mushrooming protests around the globe , world diplomats have been scrambling to find a way to halt one of Israel's deadliest-ever offensives on Gaza that has so far killed at least 390 Palestinians.
Hamas for its part blasted international truce proposals as unbalanced, with spokesman Fawzi Barhum saying they "put the executioner and the victim on equal footing."
"All Arab and international intervention must focus on stopping the aggression, lifting the blockade and opening all border crossings," he said.
Israel has warned that what Defence Minister Ehud Barak has called an "all-out war" on Hamas could last for weeks, and has for days massed tanks and personnel on the border of the territory, warning of a ground incursion.
"Our ground forces are still deployed around the Gaza Strip and are ready to go in if given the order," an army spokeswoman told AFP on Wednesday.
Israel also gave the green light for the call-up of 2,500 reservists, in addition to the more than 6,500 authorised earlier in the week.
Israeli jets continued to hammer Hamas targets throughout Gaza, carrying out dozens of strikes overnight and on Wednesday against Hamas government offices, weapons storage facilities and tunnels used to smuggle contraband, the military said.
Since it was launched on Saturday, the Israeli offensive has killed at least 390 people, including 42 children, and wounded more than 1,900 others, according to Gaza medics.
At least 25 percent of those killed have been civilians, the United Nations said.
But the massive Israeli bombardment has failed to stop the rocket fire, with militants firing more than 30 rockets alone on Wednesday morning, causing damage and light wounds.
Since late on Tuesday, Hamas's armed wing sent five rockets slamming around the desert town of Beersheva some 40 kilometres (24 miles) from the Gaza border -- the deepest its projectiles have reached inside Israel yet.
Since the start of the Israeli onslaught, Gaza militants have fired more than 250 rockets into Israel, killing three civilians and one soldier and wounding several dozen people.
Hamas has also threatened to carry out suicide attacks inside Israel for the first time since January 2005.
As protests were held in countries from the United States to Iran, diplomatic efforts gathered pace to stop the violence.
On Wednesday the prime minister of Israel's top Muslim ally Turkey condemned the offensive as "ruthless" and again called for a halt before the "dangerous developments" lead to "irreversible developments in the region."
"The attacks on Gaza should stop immediately and a permanent ceasefire should be urgently secured to prevent irreversible developments in the region," Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Ankara as he began a regional tour for talks on the crisis.
The Arab League met in Cairo in emergency session, and its chief Amr Mussa called for Hamas and the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to hold an "immediate" reconciliation meeting.
The bombardment has raised concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a tiny, aid-dependent territory of 1.5 million which Israel has virtually sealed off since Hamas seized power in June 2007.
"Gaza's hospitals are facing their largest ever trauma caseloads under some of the most adverse conditions imaginable," said UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard.
Israel opened one of its crossings into Gaza again on Wednesday, allowing more than 100 truckloads of goods to pass, the army said. A total of 179 truckloads and 10 ambulances have been delivered since Gaza bombardment began, it said.