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Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday reiterated that the IDF was continuing its offensive in Gaza while simultaneously, the political echelons were closely monitoring diplomatic efforts to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
In a meeting with IAF pilots and ground control teams at the Palmahim air force base, Barak said, "Yesterday, we heard, and we respect the calls of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and, of course, we are also monitoring developments on the Egyptian initiative, but the fighting goes on and the IDF is continuing to apply force."
Ban is set to arrive in the region on Wednesday and is expected for talks in Israel on Thursday. He told reporters in New York on Monday that he planned to insist that last week's UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza be "respected fully."
During Tuesday's visit to Palmahim, Barak was briefed on operations in Gaza, visited a squadron of attack helicopters and spoke with pilots and technicians.
"The operation is continuing on its eighteenth day with the aim of restoring quiet for southerners and curbing weapons smuggling," he said. "We are working on both these goals, with an eye on diplomatic initiatives."
Meanwhile, Army Radio reported Tuesday that Barak, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had decided against expanding the military campaign for the time being in order to give a chance to Egyptian-led diplomatic efforts to stop weapons smuggling. Jerusalem officials told the radio station that for the moment, the IDF had been ordered to increase the pressure on Hamas using pinpoint operations alone.
Livni said Tuesday that "there are indications that Hamas in Gaza is showing signs of distress, but the leadership in Damascus is sending out a different message."
Her comments came a day after Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh indicated that he was willing to consider a cease-fire initiative.
"There is a big gap between what we hear in closed sessions and what is being said in public," she emphasized.
Livni, who met members of the American Jewish Congress, added that the Gaza operation also served the interests of the Palestinian people and moderate regimes in the region.
Meanwhile, an IDF spokeswoman defended Operation Cast Lead in an interview with Sky News, emphasizing that despite diplomatic efforts to achieve a cease-fire, the military still had many more objectives to attain.
"Currently we don't see an end in sight," Maj. Avital Leibowitz said. "We have destroyed 70% of the tunnels" along the Philadelphi Corridor, but there are still more targets to hit."
Herb Keinon contributed to the report.