No Gaza incursion — for now

A further round of bloodshed in Israel and the Gaza Strip and stalled  ceasefire talks has not given the Israeli leadership a renewed appetite for a large-scale military incursion into Gaza.

Amnon Rosenberg, a 51-year-old worker at a paint factory at Kibbutz Nir Oz, was killed in a mortar attack last Thursday morning and five others wounded. Hamas took responsibility for the attack. In retaliation, the Israeli Air Force attacked a Hamas position in Beit Lahiya.

In an unrelated incident the same day, a four-year-old Palestinian girl was killed in an air-force attack on fighters preparing to launch a mortar, and her mother was injured. On Friday morning, an armed Palestinian was shot dead by the IDF near Hebron.

Egypt-brokered, indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas were supposed to have resulted weeks ago in a ceasefire. But Israeli demands to include some advance on the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, and Hamas demands to link the opening of crossings into the Gaza Strip with the ceasefire, have delayed it.

Following the killing on Thursday, both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak said that a major military operation in the Gaza Strip was a matter of time, but their aides have since dampened down expectations. Israeli sources acknowledged that there was still insufficient international, meaning mainly American, support for such an operation. The leaders also believe that it would achieve little.

“There is no question of us going into Gaza and staying there for a long time,” said a Defence Ministry adviser. “And if we go in and out, the firings on Sderot and the kibbutzim will resume almost immediately. So what will we have achieved?”

But sources close to Mr Barak said that, if the fighting goes on for a few more weeks without the prospect of a ceasefire, Israel will have no choice but to embark on a wider operation than the current “low-level” attacks.

    Last updated: 3:31pm, March 2 2009