Israel expected to wait on Gaza sweep

Israel will likely hold off on an invasion of the Gaza Strip at least until after President Bush visits next month.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, following consultations with his Security Cabinet, decided no major offensive against Palestinian rocket crews in Gaza should be initiated in the next month, Ynet reported Thursday.

The restraint aims at preventing a spike in violence that would overshadow the Bush visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is expected to take place Jan. 9 -11. P.A. officials said an Israeli raid on Gaza that killed five terrorists Tuesday undermined efforts to revive peace talks following last month’s Annapolis conference hosted by Bush.

Jerusalem sources have said, however, that Israel’s hand could be forced should the rocket salvos from Gaza, which intensified this week, cause major casualties. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his top military brass recently stepped up threats to invade Gaza given the failure of smaller-scale operations to stem the rocket fire.

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