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Israel Says No to Cease-Fire, Vows to Press Offensive


Israel has rejected international pressure for an immediate, even if temporary, cease-fire five days into its offensive against Hamas militants and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Despite massive damage and a toll of nearly 400 Palestinians killed, Hamas also remains defiant, continuing to fire rockets ever deeper into Israel.

After meeting Wednesday afternoon, Israeli cabinet ministers decided against a French proposal for a 48-hour cease-fire to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.

Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Yariv Ovadia tells VOA, the ministers studied several informal proposals and decided there was no one to talk to on the other side.

"We haven't heard anything from Hamas," Ovadia said. "On the contrary, what we've heard from Hamas was that they're going to keep firing missiles on Israeli cities and trying to kill Israeli civilians. Hamas started this atrocity and doesn't want to end it."

Israel has said it would allow a further 2,000 tons of food and medical supplies into Gaza. It has also given authorization for several dozen ill and wounded Gazans to seek medical treatment in Israel.

But for now, despite growing international pressure for a cease-fire, Israeli officials say they will press their offensive and they insist any cease-fire must ensure that militant rocket attacks against Israel stop.

Israeli war planes carried out further bombing runs in Gaza Wednesday, hitting Hamas government offices and underground tunnels on the Gaza-Egypt border. And, Israel continues to amass ground troops around Gaza in preparation for a possible ground offensive.

But, despite massive damages and rising casualties, Hamas too is maintaining a tough line.

In parts of Israel the sound of sirens has become a daily occurrence - the warning sounds of incoming Hamas rockets, striking ever deeper into Israel, including Beersheba in the Negev, over 40 kilometers southeast of Gaza.

And, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum makes it clear the group is not begging for a truce.

Barhoum said what's needed immediately is for the Arab and Islamic countries to unite and stop this aggression, lift the siege, open the crossings and rebuild Gaza.

The militants have kept up their rocket attacks, hitting ever deeper into Israel. Rockets have hit not only town near Gaza, such as Sderot and Ashkelon, but also Ashdod to the north of Gaza and Beersheba to the southeast.

As the violence continues, so do diplomatic efforts to stop it. Arab League foreign ministers met in Cairo to discuss the crisis. Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was on a foray to Syria and Jordan Wednesday and is also due to visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to hold talks in Paris Thursday and French President Nicolas Sarkozy may visit Israel early next week.

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