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Israel agonises over endgame as truces turn to dust

    Houses destroyed in Beit Hanoun, Gaza
    Houses destroyed in Beit Hanoun, Gaza

    As the conflict in Gaza entered its fourth week and the prospects of a ceasefire looked slim, the Israeli security cabinet was split over whether to expand the operation and strike at the Hamas leadership or to continue a limited action to eradicate the terror group's tunnels.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon are still in favour of the more limited option and are continuing to seek a ceasefire through Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

    Last weekend, both Hamas and Israel rejected a US proposal for an immediate truce.

    Israel's objection was based on the lack of clear assurances that Hamas's tunnels and rockets would be destroyed or that the Strip would eventually be demilitarised. It was also concerned by the involvement of Hamas's supporters, Turkey and Qatar, in the creation of the ceasefire plan. The PA, which was given no role in the US proposal, also turned it down.

    Further efforts to reach a new ceasefire in Cairo were delayed on Wednesday due to disagreement among the Palestinians as to who would take part in a joint delegation to the talks.

    An IDF soldier prays near the Gaza border
    An IDF soldier prays near the Gaza border

    While the Israeli government is officially sticking to the original proposal of the Egyptian regime, which called for a seven-day ceasefire during which talks would be held on gradually opening up the Gaza Strip, in off-record discussions, Israeli officials were already outlining a future agreement.

    According to these officials, Israel is interested in pursuing a simultaneous dual-track plan which would allow for opening Gaza up to commerce and travel and building new infrastructure there, while dismantling the rocket launchers and weapons manufacturing workshops.

    Such an agreement would include Israeli assurances not to carry out further attacks on Hamas leaders and bases. The Palestinian Authority, along with international monitors, would implement the agreement, oversee the crossings to Israel and Egypt and gradually restore its authority in Gaza.

    Meanwhile, the fighting went on - despite a unilateral proposal by Israel through the UN to hold daily "humanitarian truces" in Gaza to allow the local population to replenish supplies, evacuate wounded and bury their dead.

    Dozens of casualties were caused when a market in Shujaiyeh and a school in Jabaliya were hit, most likely by IDF shells.

    Three soldiers were killed and at least 12 wounded in an IDF operation to destroy the entrance to a Hamas tunnel in Khan Younis, when a booby-trapped house they entered exploded. As of Wednesday, 56 Israeli soldiers had been killed, and three civilians. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 1,324 Palestinians had been killed.

    On Tuesday night, the IDF expanded its operation, taking control of additional areas on the outskirts of the cities in the Strip. IDF sources said that the objective was still to destroy nearly 40 cross-border tunnels built by Hamas.

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