After pounding Hamas in Gaza for four days, senior Israeli defense officials are considering a 48-hour truce to see whether Hamas will halt its rocket attacks in return, Israeli defense sources told ABC News.
The possibility of a truce is expected to be discussed at Israel's security Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
The impetus behind the suggestion by "senior voices within the IDF," the Israeli Defense Force, is to see how Hamas responds, Israeli sources told ABC News. If Hamas rejects the truce and continues to fire rockets at Israeli cities and towns, Israel would have more legitimacy to press ahead with its offensive, including a possible ground invasion into the Palestinian enclave.
An escalation of Israel's military operation to include the use of ground forces is what many third parties are trying to avoid. The devastation would prove too costly for both sides, experts say. Hamas has 15,000 well armed men, trained to fight Israeli forces in the alleyways of Gaza.
"It means tanks – it means soldiers. It means fighting Hamas face to face in many places – in Gaza," Israeli defense analyst Ronnie Sheked said.
The cease-fire proposal hasn't been formalized or accepted by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but experts say a long-term cease fire is in Israel's interest. In return for a cease-fire, Hamas will likely demand open border crossings and more supplies.
President Bush spoke with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Mubarak today, urging them to press Hamas militants to enter into a sustainable truce. Abbas' regime governs the West Bank but has no control over the Gaza Strip. The United States has no diplomatic ties to Hamas, which it has designated a terrorist organization.
A National Security Council spokesman said the purpose of the president's conversations was to lead to a "sustainable and lasting" cease-fire.
The possibility of a cease-fire emerged as the Israelis and Hamas fighters continued to trade blows for a fourth day, and the death toll rose to more than 375 dead and more than 1,400 injured.
The United Nations reports at least 50 of those killed were civilians, but the director of a Gaza Strip hospital told ABC News the civilian death count stands at more then 120, including 21 children.
On the ground, there is no sign of a truce. Earlier today, witnesses told The Associated Press that Israeli aircraft had dropped at least 16 bombs on five Hamas government buildings in a Gaza City complex, destroying them, igniting fires and sending rubble flying hundreds of yards away.
One Israeli officer told ABC News that after this operation is over, not one building belonging to Hamas in Gaza will be left standing.
Israeli forces are also going after Hamas rockets. The launch zones from where the rockets attack Israeli cities like Sderot, the warehouses where the rockets are stored, loaded and transported, all are being obliterated.
Recent reports claim that as much as 50 percent of Hamas rockets in Gaza have been destroyed.
Nevertheless, Hamas continues to launch rocket attacks into Israel, despite the all-out assault against the group by Israeli aircraft. A medium-range rocket reached 26 miles to the city of Beersheba -- farther than ever before -- slamming into an empty kindergarten. Israeli forces say they successfully struck the group that launched the rocket.