Israeli forces have escalated the ground offensive by moving into parts of densely populated Gaza City - the city has already been tightly surrounded. This is the hardest phase of the offensive thus far. Until now, Israeli forces have been hitting Hamas targets from the air and moving into less densely-populated areas in an effort to stem the rocket launches into southern Israel.
Hamas still shows remarkable resilience - now the Israeli infantry must go into the crowded cities to root them out street by street, alley by alley, house by house and often cellar by cellar. Hamas is using small teams to plant booby traps and set up ambushes in an attempt to replicate the determined defense of Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006. Israeli troops are responding by firing at anything suspicious, use overwhelming firepower (including tank and artillery fire), and blasting holes through walls to avoid some of the explosive devices.
While the military confrontation is escalating and noncombatants (the Israelis use the term "uninvolved civilians") are being exposed to more firepower as the fighting moves to closer quarters, diplomats in Cairo continue to make optimistic statements that a ceasefire is at hand. Anyone watching the news or videos on the news websites would find such optimism hard to believe.
In a positive sign, the Israeli lead negotiator returned to Cairo after going home empty handed last week. The Secretary General of the United Nations is traveling to the region to lend his gravitas to the negotiations. Despite diplomatic efforts, there is still a lot of space between the demands of Hamas and Israel.
Unlike previous efforts, the Israelis will not halt their offensive while talks are ongoing. They will stop when the talks are successful. Otherwise, any halt in the momentum allows Hamas to regroup and try to rearm. Israel's strategy is quite clear - we'll continue to fight until one of two things happens - ceasefire talks are successful or ceasefire talks are no longer necessary.
What will make ceasefire talks successful? For Israel it is the end of rocket attacks on southern Israel and guarantees that Hamas will not be permitted to smuggle weapons into Gaza. For Hamas, Israel must withdraw from Gaza and open the borders. Hamas can take no solace in Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton's remarks at her Senate confirmation hearings. She said that Hamas must renounce violence and recognize Israel.
How the diplomats claim a ceasefire is in the offing is puzzling. What I see is continued Israeli operations in Gaza City to root out Hamas until such time as Hamas gives in or the rest of the world provides Israel the guarantees it requires.