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Olmert Says Too Early for Cease-Fire in Gaza

Israel's Cabinet met Sunday to discuss the next steps in the 16-day-old offensive against the Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Medical officials in Gaza say at least 870 Palestinians have been killed in the 16-day Israeli offensive, which Israel says is to stop Hamas militants from firing missiles into southern Israel. Thirteen Israelis are reported killed.

As Israeli ground forces pushed deeper toward heavily-populated Gaza City, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened the Cabinet in Jerusalem. He said it is too early for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Mr. Olmert said "Israel is getting close to achieving its goals," but he said more time is needed to deal further damage to Hamas's military capabilities.

He called for patience and determination to bring an end to Hamas rocket attacks and change the security situation in southern Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak left the door open for diplomacy.

"The army will continue to operate by land, sea and air, and at the same time," Barak said, "we will consider diplomatic efforts" for a ceasefire.

A West Bank Palestinian legislator, Hanan Ashrawi, said a truce is long overdue.

"I certainly would like to see an immediate cease-fire, I would like to see an immediate cessation of the violence, and the incursions and the invasion and this horrific assault against the captive Palestinian population," said Ashrawi.

In Damascus, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said his side would not consider a cease-fire until Israel halts the offensive and agrees to lift its crippling blockade on Gaza.

Likewise, Israeli security chiefs told the Cabinet that Hamas will not raise the white flag. But they also said that Hamas is in disarray. It is running low on ammunition, its tunnel supply lines on the Egyptian border have been destroyed, and therefore, army intelligence believes Hamas is interested in a cease-fire.

But with rockets still terrorizing southern Israel, the security chiefs recommended keeping up the military pressure on Hamas.