Israel is backing away from the idea of invading the Gaza Strip. But the military option is still on the table, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
Israel's Security Cabinet decided to back mediation efforts by Egypt, which is trying to mediate a truce between Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. The Cabinet met to discuss a response to daily Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza that have terrorized Israeli border communities.
Three residents of kibbutz collective farms have been killed in the past month, putting pressure on the government to launch a major offensive in heavily-populated Gaza.
"That possibility is clearly on the table," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev. "Obviously the current situation in the south is totally unsustainable, it is intolerable, it just cannot go on."
The Cabinet said Israel prefers a peaceful resolution, but it ordered the army to prepare for an air and ground assault on Gaza if cease-fire efforts fail. Regev said one way or another, Israel will stop the Palestinian attacks on its southern border.
"And it either will end through the Egyptian process, through dialogue, or Israel will have to act to defend our people, to protect our civilian population there in the south," he said.
Israel has been mulling a Gaza invasion for months, but it fears high casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, and in turn, international condemnation.
Under the proposed truce, both sides would halt attacks and Israel would lift its crippling blockade on Gaza. But so far, Hamas has rejected Israeli demands that the cease-fire include the release of a captive Israeli soldier, held for two years in the Gaza Strip.