Israel Demands Monitors As Part Of A Gaza Truce

By: AP
By: AP

Israel demanded international monitors as a key term of any truce with Gaza militants, as its warplanes bombed the parliament building in Gaza City Thursday and its ships attacked coastline positions of the territory's Islamic Hamas rulers.

An international agreement to set up such a force would give Israel a way to end its devastating, six-day offensive against Hamas, even as thousands of Israeli ground troops massed along the border in anticipation of a possible land invasion. So far, the campaign to crush rocket fire on southern Israel has been conducted largely from the air, and a poll on Thursday showed most Israelis aren't eager to see a ground push.

Military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said preparations for a ground operation were complete.

"The infantry, the artillery and other forces are ready. They're around the Gaza Strip, waiting for any calls to go inside," Leibovich said.

Gaza officials said more than 400 people have died and 1,700 have been wounded since Israel began its aerial campaign on Saturday. The U.N. says at least 60 Palestinian civilians have died, 34 of them children.

In Israel, three civilians and a soldier have been killed by rocket fire that has reached deeper than ever into Israel, bringing one-eighth of Israel's population within rocket range.

"We have no interest in a long war. We do not desire a broad campaign. We want quiet," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a meeting of mayors of southern Israeli cities Thursday. "We don't want to display our might, but we will employ it if necessary."

Olmert, who rebuffed a French proposal for a two-day cease fire, won't agree to a truce unless international monitors take responsibility for enforcing it, government officials said. He's made this point in talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other world leaders who are pressing for an end to the violence, they added.

The government officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.

International intervention helped Israel to accept a truce that ended its 2006 war with Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, when the U.N. agreed to station peacekeepers to enforce the terms. This time, Israel isn't seeking a peacekeeping force, but a monitoring body that would judge compliance on both sides.

The idea was floated before the offensive but did not gain traction because of the complications created by the existence of rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza, defense officials said.

Gaza has been under Hamas rule since the militant group overran it in June 2007; the West Bank has remained under the control of moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been negotiating peace with Israel for more than a year but has no influence over Hamas. Bringing in monitors would require cooperation between the fierce rivals.

An Abbas confidant said the Palestinian president supported the notion of international involvement. "We are asking for a cease-fire and an international presence to monitor Israel's commitment to it," aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

Israeli Cabinet ministers have been unswayed by a flurry of diplomatic activity, which is to include a whirlwind trip around the region next week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Instead, they authorized the military to push ahead with its campaign against militants, who fired 21 rockets into Israel by midday Thursday, according to police. No injuries were reported, but an eight-story house in Ashdod, 23 miles from Gaza, was hit.

The U.N. Security Council, meeting for emergency consultations Wednesday night, discussed but did not vote on an Arab request for a legally binding resolution that would condemn Israel and halt its attacks.

A draft resolution was labeled "unbalanced" by the United States because it made no mention of halting Hamas rocket fire at Israeli towns - the immediate cause behind Israel's massive air offensive.

Echoing Israel's cool response to truce proposals, a senior Hamas leader with ties to its military wing said now was not the right time to call off the fight. Hamas was unhappy with the six-month truce that collapsed just before the fighting began because it didn't result in an easing of Israel's crippling blockade on Gaza.

The Hamas leader, Osama Mazini, said in a statement distributed by the Hamas press office that his fighters were eager for a ground assault. "The people of Gaza are waiting to see the Zionist enemy in Gaza to tear them into pieces of flesh," said Mazini.

Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory, and have opened their borders only to let in limited amounts of humanitarian aid.

Explosions shook Gaza City on Thursday as Israeli planes targeted three government buildings, including the parliament. Hospital officials said 25 wounded were evacuated from nearby houses. The military said aircraft also bombed smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border, part of an ongoing attempt to cut off Hamas' last lifeline to the world outside the embattled Palestinian territory.

Aircraft also went after Hamas police and their vehicles.

One pre-dawn strike targeting the house of a Hamas operative in northern Gaza killed a 35-year-old woman and wounded eight people, a Gaza Health Ministry official said.

Israelis are not eager to see the operation expand beyond the air-based campaign, a poll Thursday showed.

The survey of 472 people showed that 52 percent want the air assault to continue, while only 19 percent wanted to see a ground offensive. Twenty percent favored a cease-fire.

The Dialog company poll appeared Thursday in the daily Haaretz. It had a margin of error of 4.6 percentage points.

In five days of raids, Israeli warplanes have carried out some 500 sorties against Hamas targets, and helicopters have flown hundreds more combat missions, a senior Israeli military officer said on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

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Teibel reported from Jerusalem.

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