"If Israeli soldiers are such men, they should fight on the ground," Abu Abir, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees told Ynet on Monday. "The defeat they suffered on the ground in Lebanon would be even greater in Gaza?yet I know that we are dealing with cowards who ever since the 1980s have feared a face-to-face confrontation with us." If the Israeli assault on Gaza has the explicit goal of destroying Hamas' capacity to threaten southern Israel with rocket and mortar fire, it is also clearly intended to erase the memory of Israel's failure to defeat Hizbollah in Lebanon in 2006. "There has been a nagging sense of uncertainty in the last couple years of whether anyone is really afraid of Israel anymore," Mark Heller, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, told The New York Times. "The concern is that in the past - perhaps a mythical past - people didn't mess with Israel because they were afraid of the consequences. Now the region is filled with provocative rhetoric about Israel the paper tiger. This operation is an attempt to re-establish the perception that if you provoke or attack you are going to pay a disproportionate price." Even after the Israeli Air Force's devastating attacks on Gaza over the last three days, according to Ynet, Israeli military sources say Hamas' military wing is still intact and capable of carrying out significant operations in the near future. "Meanwhile, the IDF was preparing Monday for the next stage of Operation Cast Lead, which will see ground forces entering the Strip. "Large forces and heavy machinery are already stationed near Gaza, and the IDF is holding deliberations aimed at determining the nature of the ground incursion. The army is inclined to broaden the operation in order to boost Israel's deterrence vis-à-vis Hamas." At a meeting with top officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out discussion on a possible ceasefire with Hamas. "We no longer talk about an exit policy, but rather, we are working in order to secure the Gaza operation's objectives," he said. "As long as the fire continues, the Israeli operation will be expanded." In an interview with The Associated Press, Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' politburo in Damascus rejected the suggestion of a new truce with Israel unless attacks on Gaza cease, the siege is lifted and "all violence against the people in the West Bank" is stopped. He said that Palestinian militants have a right to strike anywhere in Israel in response to its deadly assault on Gaza. Abu Marzouk said Hamas will not surrender and will face any Israeli ground invasion. "We are going to defend ourselves, defend our people and defend our land," he said. Alex Fishman, and Israeli military commentator wrote in Ynet: "At this time, the objective of an Israeli military operation in Gaza must be to undermine Hamas' desire to keep fighting, and at that point agree on a ceasefire. "If the IDF chief of staff constantly demands that the political leadership formulate clear objectives for a Gaza Strip operation - also known as an exit strategy - this needs to be the goal. The realistic objective of any military operation is not the ousting of Hamas, but rather, the possibility of undermining its military effectiveness and weakening its regime. "Such operation must end with a truce based on terms Israel can live with." The Guardian pointed out that there are other Israeli military analysts, "who raise broader questions about Israel's policy towards Gaza, particularly in the past three years since Hamas won the surprise electoral victory. "Yossi Alpher, a former senior official at Mossad and a military commentator, agreed that Israel was seeking a ceasefire on more acceptable terms. But he was critical of the tough economic blockade Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip in recent years, limiting imports to humanitarian supplies and preventing all exports, a policy that has all but wiped out private industry and brought Gaza's economy to collapse. " 'The economic siege of Gaza has not produced any of the desired political results,' he said. 'It has not manipulated Palestinians into hating Hamas, but has probably been counter-productive. It is just useless collective punishment.' In Haaretz, Zvi Barel wrote: "Six months ago Israel asked and received a ceasefire from Hamas. It unilaterally violated it when it blew up a tunnel, while still asking Egypt to get the Islamic group to hold its fire. Are conditions enabling the return of a ceasefire no longer available? Hamas has clear conditions for its extension: The opening of the border crossings for goods and cessation of IDF attacks in Gaza, as outlined in the original agreement. Later, Hamas wants the cease-fire to be extended to the West Bank. Israel, for its part, is justifiably demanding a real calm in Gaza; that no Qassam or mortar shell be fired by either Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other group. "Essentially, Israel is telling Hamas it is willing to recognize its control of Gaza on the condition that it assumes responsibility for the security of the territory, like Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon. It is likely that this will be the outcome of a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip if Israel decides it does not want to rule Gaza directly. Why, then, not forgo the war and agree to these conditions now?" While both parties to this conflict weigh up their tactical and strategic options, the residents of Gaza face a growing humanitarian crisis. The Washington Post said: "Humanitarian aid groups sounded the alarm Sunday about what they described as a deteriorating medical situation in the strip and urged the opening of Gaza's borders to allow supplies to flow to hospitals. There are growing shortages of vital medicines and equipment, the aid workers said. " 'There are hundreds of wounded in the hospitals in the Gaza Strip, and what we have received so far has only been a fraction of our need. Our supplies have been depleted, and we are in desperate need for supplies,' said Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza. 'We ask the parties to avoid striking the civilian population on both sides.' " Haaretz reported: "Israel will allow Qatar to airlift humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip in the coming days, after Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni agreed yesterday to a formal request from the Qatari government. Several aircraft from the Persian Gulf nation will land in Israel, and from there food and medicine will be transferred by truck to Gaza. "Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who serves as Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, contacted Livni on Saturday and asked for permission to carry out the airlift. Livni said she would discuss the matter with Olmert and Barak. "The request arrived after Qatar sent three planes to the Egyptian city of El-Arish in the northern Sinai Peninsula, and Egypt refused to allow the aid to pass through Rafah crossing into Gaza" In the Los Angeles Times, Ashraf Khalil pointed out: "One of the hidden realities of the Western media's coverage of Gaza is that most correspondents live in Jerusalem and only occasionally visit Gaza, once a month or so, for specific stories. What that means in the current conflict is that many of us were caught out of position when the Israeli air campaign began on Saturday. "Since then, Israel has shut down the border crossing into Gaza, citing security concerns - effectively shutting out most of the Western press corps and forcing us to rely on local journalists in Gaza to serve as our eyes and ears. "But Al Jazeera already had a permanent position in Gaza, and its correspondents continue to risk their lives to crisscross the territory, bringing the most comprehensive coverage of the conflict available." In her column for The Financial Times, Roula Khalaf said: "It was not long ago that the Middle East was celebrating the US election, expecting diplomacy to replace the use of force as the means of solving the region's problems. Speculation was rife that Israel and Syria would soon announce the launch of direct peace negotiations, while the US would prepare for a dialogue with Iran. "But it would be an illusion to think that war can be waged on one front, and peace on the other, or that the West Bank, run by the secular Fatah of Mr Abbas, can flourish, while Gaza burns. "Sadly, the likely outcome of this assault is that the very forces it is intended to undermine could gain the most, and the voices who argue, on both the Arab and Israeli side, for a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict will be the losers."
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