Israel has no plans for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip in the near future, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a parliamentary committee Tuesday, according to meeting participants.
Barak has been saying for weeks that it is only a matter of time before Israel invades Gaza to halt a continuing wave of Palestinian rocket attacks. However, with Israel and the Palestinians preparing for a U.S.-hosted peace conference in the coming weeks, Barak told lawmakers that now is not the time for widespread military action in Gaza.
"It's not the right time for an operation in Gaza," Barak told lawmakers, according to committee member Limor Livnat.
She said Barak hinted that he did not want to jeopardize the peace conference. He also said that Israeli actions in Gaza - including airstrikes, brief ground incursions and financial sanctions - have been effective in curbing the rocket fire, Livnat said.
Israel says it holds the Hamas militant group, which controls Gaza, responsible for the rocket attacks, which have killed seven people in recent years and disrupted life in southern Israeli border towns.
At the same time, Israel is trying to revive peace efforts with the rival Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules from the West Bank.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in June after routing Abbas' forces. Abbas responded by expelling Hamas from the Palestinian government and installing a pro-Western Cabinet in the West Bank.
The international community has rallied behind Abbas, while driving Hamas into deep isolation. The upcoming peace conference, expected to take place by the end of the year in Annapolis, Maryland, is a key part of the international support for Abbas and is aimed at restarting formal peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The 23-year-old athlete was returning to the base through the forest after fishing on the Irtysh River. There were two other fishermen with him