Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday said Israel will push forward with its anti-terror offensive in the Gaza Strip, but will also be monitoring diplomatic developments in hopes that someone will present an acceptable ceasefire proposal.
Speaking at a meeting with Israeli air force pilots at the Palmachim air base, Barak said that Israel respects international calls for calm in Gaza, but insisted that Israel must finally, after more than seven years of absorbing rocket attacks, achieve its security goals there.
"The operation is continuing on its eighteenth day with the aim of restoring quiet for southerners and curbing weapons smuggling," said Barak. "We are working on both these goals, with an eye on diplomatic initiatives."
Israel has rejected several ceasefire proposals, most notably an Egyptian-French plan, because they failed to make a total cessation of Hamas rocket fire a prerequisite and failed to offer any guarantees that Hamas would no longer threaten the one million Israelis living within range of the Gaza Strip.
Israeli army chief Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke at the same meeting, and reported that all branches of the military are achieving "exceptional results in damaging Hamas, its infrastructure and its military wing."
A senior army official cited by Israel National News on Monday said that more than 650 Palestinian terrorists had been killed since the start of the operation more than two weeks ago.
Israeli forces began shelling the outskirts of Gaza City on Tuesday, as troops inched every closer to the dangerous alleys of the crowded population center that has become a hub of terrorist activity.
An Israeli officer was critically wounded and two of his soldiers sustained light injuries after entering a booby-trapped house during the advance on Gaza City late Monday night.
Army officials said Hamas and set traps in numerous empty and occupied homes and schools.
Four more soldiers were wounded overnight, one of them seriously, in a friendly-fire incident in northern Gaza.
In other violence, three Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded Monday night when terrorists opened fire on their vehicle near the Judean town of Hebron.
In a surprise incident, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on an Israeli Border Police vehicle near the border crossing on the outskirts of the Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat on Tuesday.
There were no injuries in the attack.
Jordan initially denied that anyone on its side of the border had opened fire.
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