With tension running high on the Israel-Gaza border, the sides could be stepping back from the brink of a major confrontation.  

The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip has offered to renew a cease-fire with Israel.  The six-month truce expired last week, and since then, Palestinian militants have fired dozens of rockets at Israeli border communities.

Israel is threatening to launch a major military offensive in Gaza, but senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said that would be a mistake.

Zahar warned Israel that an invasion of Gaza would not accomplish anything and Hamas would remain in power.  He said Hamas is offering Israel a last chance to renew the truce and prevent an outbreak of violence.

Israel is reluctant to invade Gaza, fearing high casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, and in turn international condemnation.  So Israel, too, prefers to renew the cease-fire.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio that the best option is always to avoid war, though he added that Israel knows how to fight if it has to.

Both sides have conditions for a truce: Hamas wants Israel to open border crossings and ease its crippling blockade on Gaza; Israel says that depends on a complete cessation of Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks.