"18/02/2008 Israel is considering a large-scale incursion into the Gaza Strip during which it would present an ultimatum to the international community for the deployment of a multinational force as the only condition under which it would withdraw, defense officials have told The Jerusalem Post.
On Sunday, a soldier from the Israeli occupation army's elite General Staff Reconnaissance Unit (Sayeret Matkal) was seriously wounded by a gunshot wound to the shoulder during an operation in the southern Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian resistance fighter wounded during the Israeli incursion in the Strip died from his wounds on Monday, Palestinian medics said. Auni Abu Taha, 42, was wounded on Sunday during an Israeli incursion near the southern Gaza town of Rafah in which one civilian and three fighters from the armed wing of Hamas were martyred by Israeli fire.
While Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said numerous times that a major operation in Gaza is inevitable, the Israeli army has been reluctant to recommend such an incursion for a number of reasons, especially the lack of a clear exit strategy. Without a multinational force on the ground and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party too weak to retake control of Gaza, a large operation seems unlikely.
However, Defense officials told the Post on Sunday that the current thinking in the defense establishment was to launch an operation in Gaza if deemed necessary by the political echelon, even without a multinational force in place. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has called for the deployment of such a force numerous times in recent months.
In Jerusalem, at the beginning of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would continue imposing economic sanctions, including small cuts to the electricity supply, on the Gaza Strip as long as the Qassam rocket attacks continued. "I think that this is being done correctly, prudently and responsibly," Olmert said. "This may not always be loved but it is an important part of counterterrorist activity." Also Sunday, a rocket hit next to a home in Sderot. No one was injured but several people were treated for shock.
UN OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST GAZA INVASION
The United Nations's undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs warned Israel against an invasion of the Gaza Strip and said that the crisis in the South can be solved only by diplomacy. "The only thing that will make a lasting difference is a peace settlement," he said. "You can't stop these problems militarily. They have to be solved through negotiations."
In an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz after his visit to Sderot, Sir John Holmes said that the response to the Qassam rocket attacks must be proportional from a humanitarian point of view. The senior UN official had requested to meet with Livni and Barak, but was turned down.
Regarding the continued Qassam rocket attacks, Holmes said during a visit to Sderot, "We condemn absolutely the firing of these rockets. There's no justification for it. They are indiscriminate."
Two weeks ago, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, attacked Holmes for a statement he issued against collective punishment in the Gaza Strip, while ignoring the rocket attacks against Sderot. Holmes said Sunday that Gillerman apologized when he learned that the condemnation also included specific references to the rocket attacks on Sderot."