The idea was in a very early stage, the result of a conversation between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But aides to Mr. Barak said he was interested in exploring it and would do so with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the rest of the cabinet in the coming day.
“The leading option right now is still a ground invasion but the target of this operation is an improved ceasefire and if that can come without the invasion, fine,” a close aide to Mr. Barak said, requesting anonymity since he was not his authorized spokesman. “But of course Hamas has to agree and there has to be a mechanism to make it work.”
As the death toll among Palestinians in Gaza rose, the United States was also increasing pressure on Israel to call a cease-fire, and was enlisting Arab countries to press Hamas to do the same, in intensive diplomacy being led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the White House. The goal, said a State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, is a “reliable cease-fire, one that is durable and sustainable.”But despite the new attempts at reaching a diplomatic solution, most of the talk in Israel on Tuesday was of an ongoing and expanding Israeli military operation. Warplanes attacked smuggler tunnels in southern Gaza and destroyed the home of a top militant leader.
Mr. Olmert told President Shimon Peres that the air strikes were the first of several planned phases, according to spokesmen for both officials, although it was also clear that the number of targets available from the air was declining, making the likelihood of a ground offensive greater.
In Gaza, Hamas militants issued a tape-recorded statement vowing revenge for the more than 370 Palestinians killed so far in Israel’s operations since Saturday, including more than 70 civilians, and warning that a ground invasion would prove painful for Israel. Two sisters, aged 4 and 11, were killed in a strike in the north as concern was growing around the world that the assault was taking a terrible toll on ordinary people.
“It would be easier to dry the sea of Gaza than to defeat the resistance and uproot Hamas which is in every house of Gaza,” the statement, from the military wing of Hamas, said. It was played on Hamas’s television station that had been shut down by an Israeli missile but went back into action by broadcasting from a mobile van. The statement added that if there was a ground invasion, “the children of Gaza will be collecting the body parts of your soldiers and the ruins of tanks.”
Hamas continued to fire longer-range rockets at Israel, shooting deep into the city of Ashdod for a second day as well as even further north into the town of Kiryat Malachi. There were no reports of serious injuries and the number of rockets was down to about a dozen, a day after three Israelis were killed when 70 rockets and mortars were fired.
That last paragraph is the problem. Even if Israel stops its attacks, Hamas won’t stop launching rockets into Israeli hamlets, which it has been doing several times a day for the past few years.
In Los Angeles, there will be two protests this afternoon outside the Israeli consulate on Wilshire Boulevard—one against Israel’s airstrikes by the ANSWER Coalition and a counter protest, led by StandWithUs, in support of Israel.