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Israel hot for limited Gaza operation
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21:54, December 26, 2008

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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is hot in launching a "limited operation" within days in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip to end continuing barrage against Israel, local daily Ha'aretz reported Friday.

The cabinet has given the green light for the relatively small-scale move, which is expected to combine air strikes and ground maneuvers in order to inflict maximum damage to Hamas "assets," said the report.

The operation would not limit itself to just stopping the artillery firing, Israeli defense officials were quoted as saying, adding that the operation has clearly defined goals and might last for a few days.

On Sunday, caretaker Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to convene a series of consultations with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on the possible Gaza operation.

The newspaper reported the meetings would focus on home front preparations, humanitarian issues in the Gaza Strip and diplomatic efforts to garner international support.

The Jewish state is unlikely to carry out any major move before all necessary preparations are in place, a government official was quoted as saying.

During a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday, a senior military officer briefed ministers on potential moves that the defense establishment is mulling, and said most strikes will be airborne and aimed at facilities believed to be of strategic importance to Hamas in terms of both political and military leadership.

Meanwhile, the timing of the seemingly impending escalation remains in the dark. The officer was quoted as saying that current weather conditions are preventing the air force from launching the raids, while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said earlier Israel would not give Hamas a "promo" of when and how it would respond.

As Israel ratchets up its rhetoric and puts on gear, Palestinian militants continue their barrage against southern Israel.

Over 20 mortar shells were fired overnight till Friday morning, adding to nearly a dozen rockets on Thursday, a day after some 70 rockets and mortar shells rained down on the Israeli side of the border and an retaliatory Israeli airstrike killed a Hamas gunman in southern Gaza.

Despite the continuing cross-border attacks, Israel reopened the border crossings with the strip on Friday, allowing tens of truckloads of humanitarian supplies into the impoverished area where reside some 1.5 million Palestinians.

The move, which seems unusual as Israel normally keeps the border shut down as long as the barrage continues, is probably a tactical decision, said local news service Ynet.

Israeli sources were cited as saying its objective is to allow Gazans to lay in basic necessities and thus mitigate the humanitarian situation during the possible Israeli incursion.

In what seemed to be a last-ditch appeal before the widely speculated operation, Olmert on Thursday called directly on Gazans to stop Hamas, which he dubbed the common enemy of both Israelis and Gazans, from disturbing the life on both sides of the border.

The rare move came on the same day when Livni brushed away a call for restraint by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, stressing in Cairo that Israel has run out of patience on Hamas and must actto protect its citizens.

"Anyone who harms Israeli citizens and soldiers will pay the price," Barak warned, while IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi vowed that the army will use all of its might "against the terror infrastructure" and restore security around the Gaza Strip.

The Jewish state pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. Two years later, Hamas, which Israel blacklists as a terrorist group, seized control of the strip from rival Fatah by force, prompting Israel to tighten its blockade on the coastal enclave.

Israel has since carried out several Gaza incursions, but all failed to put an end to the barrage, triggering widespread worries that only a reoccupation could blow away the cloud over southern Israel.

In what is likely to deepen the impression of a looming Gaza operation, Egypt has beefed up security measures along its border with Gaza, amid fears that the possible conflict might lead to a repetition of the border breach in January, when tens of thousands of Gazans swarmed into the land of their southern neighbor for daily necessities.

Soruce: Xinhua

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