Israel eases attacks,says Hamas cracking

ON THE 17th day of the war against Hamas,Israel said on Monday that it had launched around 15 air strikes overnight...

Jerusalem | Published: January 13, 2009 1:20 am

ON THE 17th day of the war against Hamas,Israel said on Monday that it had launched around 15 air strikes overnight,fewer than in some recent nights,as Israeli troops pushed into a heavily populated area of Gaza City from the south on Sunday in fierce fighting.

Senior Israeli officials said for the first time in the war that they believed that the Hamas military wing was beginning to crack and that Hamas leaders inside Gaza were looking for a ceasefire.

Israel’s Prime Minister,Ehud Olmert,told the nation that Israel was “getting close to achieving the goals it set for itself”,but that “more patience,determination and effort are still demanded”.

Olmert’s words were broadcast to an Israeli populace that supports the war against Hamas in Gaza but is nervous about how and when it will end.

The Israeli military said on Monday that warplanes attacked five Hamas operatives along with weapons caches,tunnels and other targets,while Israeli gunboats fired from the sea. Some of the air strikes were called in by ground forces fighting Hamas gunmen,the military said.

Israeli officials also said on Sunday that the military had been sending reserve units into Gaza since Thursday. The announcement appeared aimed at adding pressure on Hamas,but it also raised the possibility of an expansion in the conflict.

On Monday,Egypt was to convene negotiations aimed at a ceasefire in Gaza,where the Israeli military assault to silence rocket fire by Hamas and other militants opposed to Israel’s existence has wrought extensive death and destruction.

Israeli cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel told reporters that in the cabinet meeting the heads of army intelligence,Maj Gen Amos Yadlin,and of the Shin Bet security service,Yuval Diskin,said: “It is the inclination within Hamas to agree to a ceasefire,given the harsh blow it received and given the absence of accomplishment on the ground.”

The Israelis said this view inside Gaza was a contrast to the “unyielding stands” of the exiled Hamas leadership in Damascus,Syria,in particular Khaled Meshal,the political director.

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