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Israel to respond harshly to Gaza rocket fire
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20:53, February 28, 2008

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A senior Israeli defense official has said that Israel would respond harshly to the rocket fire on southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon, local daily Ha'aretz reported Thursday.

However, the report did not specify the source and how harsh the response would be.

Ha'aretz, meanwhile, quoted military sources as saying that Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would complete its preparations for a major ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

But the sources acknowledged that the final decision on a large-scale incursion, which is in the hands of the government, has not been made yet.

Discussions over a ground operation into Gaza ratcheted up Wednesday following the death of an Israeli civilian who was killed by a Qassam rocket in Sderot.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak went to Sderot Wednesday to meet with the heads of the western Negev communities at Sapir College, saying that "a solution to the Qassams will be found faster than what most people believe."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also said Wednesday during his visit to Japan that there is a war going on in the south of Israel and the Gaza Strip.

"No one in Hamas, neither among the low ranks nor among the senior ranks, will be immune against that war," Olmert was quoted as saying.

However, regarding the possibility of an offensive in the Gaza Strip, Olmert said that "I do not recall speaking even once about a ground operation in the Strip."

Despite Olmert's ambiguity, Israeli army did escalate its offensive against Gaza and West Bank, where a total of 18 Palestinians have been killed with the past 24 hours.

On the other side, Palestinian militants in Gaza also intensified rocket attack on southern Israeli communities by Wednesday, with more than 40 Qassam rockets hitting Sderot and its environs and at least four rockets landing in Ashkelon.

Source: Xinhua

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