Israeli Military Opposes Intervention in Palestinian Infighting

Israeli military chiefs oppose launching a major ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, defense officials said, despite some concerns that bitter fighting there between armed Palestinian factions could boil over into a fresh spate of attacks on Israel.

Since Thursday, 28 Palestinians have died in Gaza fighting between the militant Islamic Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah.

The Israeli daily Haaretz on Sunday said the military and the Shin Bet intelligence agency were concerned that Hamas accusations that Israel is backing Fatah could provoke new attempts to carry out suicide bombings or other attacks on Israel.

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The paper cited "top military sources" as saying that while no Israeli assault was imminent, an operation on the scale of the Defensive Shield offensive of 2002, in which Israel reoccupied West Bank towns after a series of suicide bombings could become necessary in Gaza.

"How close is Israel to getting sucked into the Gazan vortex? Closer than one might think," Haaretz wrote in a front-page analysis, saying that the chief opponent of a major ground operation had been outgoing armed forces chief Dan Halutz.

The position of his replacement, former infantry general Gabi Ashkenazi, was not known, the paper said.

However, military officials said there was a consensus among staff officers that Israeli forces should not get involved in Palestinian civil strife and should not enter Gaza at a time of such high tension and violence. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

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