December 31, 2008 | 2:16 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Israel rejected international pressure for a two-day cease-fire with Hamas and sent warplanes Wednesday to demolish smuggling tunnels that are the lifeline of Gaza’s Islamic rulers.
The diplomatic efforts to forge a truce were set in motion by the scale of destruction in Gaza since Israel unleashed an offensive Saturday against Hamas militants firing barrages of rockets that are striking closer to the Israeli heartland than previous attacks.
Gaza officials say the five days of airstrikes have killed 390, including 200 uniformed members of Hamas security forces, and have wounded about 1,600. The U.N. says at least 60 Palestinian civilians are among the dead. Four Israelis have been killed by militant rocket fire, including three civilians.
The offensive has touched off protests across the Islamic world. In Iran on Wednesday, fundamentalist students asked their government to authorize volunteer suicide bombers to attack Israel. The Tehran government had no immediate response.
On Tuesday, France urged Israel to halt its operation for 48 hours. Calls for an immediate cease-fire have also come from the U.S., the European Union, the U.N. and Russia.
Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed the idea of a two-day truce with his defense and foreign ministers overnight, but the trio decided to pursue the punishing aerial campaign.
Olmert told ministers Israel launched the operation to fundamentally change the situation in the south, and would not leave the job half done with a unilateral cease-fire.
“If conditions ripen to the point that we assess they promise a safer existence in southern Israel, we will consider it. We’re not they’re yet,” Olmert said, according to a participant in the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
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