Israeli PM raises spectre of military operation in Gaza

Jun 6 06:23 AM US/Eastern

Read the source article here .

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Friday raised the spectre of a full-scale military operation in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip despite Egyptian attempts to mediate a truce.
“According to the information as it is now, the pendulum is much closer to tough military action,” Olmert told journalists on arrival in Israel following a three-day trip to the United States.

His comments came a day after a man was killed in southern Israel in a mortar attack claimed by the armed wing of Hamas, the Islamist movement that has run Gaza since it ousted forces loyal to secular Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas a year ago.

But Olmert also suggested that the door to a negotiated truce was not completely closed.

He said his government was still considering whether to avoid getting “into a violent and hard conflict with the terror organisations in Gaza” or to launch “operations that would be much more aggressive and hard.”

Israeli forces launched several raids after Thursday’s attack.

On Friday a military engineering unit operating armoured bulldozers on the Gaza side of the border was involved in a firefight with Hamas gunmen, the military said.

A member of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, was killed in the exchange of fire, Gaza emergency medical services said, and an Israeli military spokeswoman said a soldier was wounded.

Earlier on Friday at least 10 Palestinians were wounded in an Israeli air raid on a Hamas police post in the north of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian medics said. The military said the raid was in reply to Thursday’s attack.

Violence in and around the impoverished sliver of land has continued despite Egyptian efforts to mediate a ceasefire and slow-moving peace talks with Abbas, who has only held sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since his forces were ousted from Gaza.

At least 491 people, nearly all Palestinians and mostly Gaza militants, have been killed since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed in November, according to an AFP count.

The Israeli military said on Friday that Palestinians fired more than 2,300 rockets and mortar bombs at Israel in the past six months.

“The sand in the hourglass is running out. We are at the last pinch of sand,” the Yediot Aharonot daily quoted Defence Minister Ehud Barak as telling leaders of southern Israeli communities near Gaza.

The mass-circulation newspaper said it appeared likely that a major military operation in Gaza would take place within days.

Before leaving Washington on Thursday, Olmert played down the chances of achieving a truce in and around Gaza. “Israel’s conditions for a truce are not bearing fruit in the way that could lead to a ceasefire,” he said.

In exchange for stopping rocket attacks, Hamas has demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza which Israel says is aimed at forcing militants to halt their attacks on the Jewish state.

Israel has demanded an end to rocket attacks and arms smuggling from Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, as well as progress in negotiations for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian militants in 2006.

Egypt has been acting as mediator in the truce talks because Israel refuses to negotiate directly with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organisation.

Copyright AFP 2008, AFP stories and photos shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium

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