SALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Israel was "very close" to deciding on what action to take to stop rocket attacks from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip as Egypt seeks to mediate a truce.
"Under no circumstances can we allow the situation in the south (of Israel) to continue the way it has in recent months, and the crossroads on a decision on how things will be handled is very close," Olmert said at a weekly cabinet meeting.
He declined to elaborate amid calls from some ministers for Israel to launch a widescale assault on Gaza to crush Palestinian militants, who fired a rocket at a shopping mall in southern Israel on Wednesday while US President George W Bush was in the country. Meanwhile, a number of former Israeli army and security officials have told the government they support indirect talks with Hamas and are opposed to any large-scale military assault on the Gaza Strip, the Haaretz newspaper reported on Sunday.
The officials sent a letter to Olmert and other top ministers urging indirect negotiations to reach a long-term ceasefire with Hamas, the Islamist movement which seized control of Gaza almost a year ago. Signatories include ex-Mossad head Ephraim Halevi, former army chief Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and the former commander of Israeli troops in Gaza, Shmuel Zakai. Opposition left-wing lawmaker Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo accords with the Palestinians, also endorsed the indirect talks.
Lipkin-Shahak told Haaretz that the letter had been sent a month ago, acknowledging that Israel is now talking with Egypt about a possible Gaza truce with armed Palestinian factions including Hamas.