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Barak Tells Army to Prepare for Gaza Invasion

February 12, 2008 - 16:11

GAZA CITY — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that he has ordered his army to prepare for a possible wide-scale invasion in the Gaza Strip in response to the ongoing homemade rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. Israeli media sources said that he told the Knesset foreign affairs and defense committee that Israel would not rule out any possible course of action to bring quiet back to the western Negev and security to the residents of Sderot and nearby communities.

The military operations are continuing day and night and will even expand, he told the committee members. In recent days, the army has killed 61 Palestinians. Barak added that over the last four months, 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. Qassam fire “will not stop in two days or even in two weeks, but the army will stop this phenomenon,” said Barak.

In the same context, Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon said yesterday that a “combination of steps” could topple the Gaza Strip’s Hamas leaders within months. “I believe a combination of steps against Hamas in Gaza will bring an end to the Hamas regime in Gaza,” Ramon told reports. “They will not last. It will take a few months. Maybe it will take a year.”

In response to the Israeli threats to target Hamas leaders, Hamas movement warned that Israel would pay heavy price if it harms Hamas leaders. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman of Hamas movement said yesterday that, “the Israeli threats against senior leaders like Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh are dangerous escalation that we strongly warn against.”

“Our response to attacks on Hamas leaders will be unprecedented. We will resort to all means,” he said. Abu Zuhri’s remarks also came following news reports said that Haniyeh has gone underground in light of the Israeli threats. Haniyeh has disclosed his whereabouts only to his closest aids and guards, the reports said. Abu Zuhri admitted that the Hamas leaders in Gaza are taking tight security measures.

Mohammed Mar’i adds from Ramallah:

Palestinian security official yesterday said that Israel has informed the Palestinian Authority that it will stop pursuing 32 Fatah gunmen in the West Bank. The official said the decision to pardon the gunmen belonging to Fatah’s armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, came after a three-month “trial period” during which they had refrained from carrying out attacks on Israel.

He said that the “names of the gunmen have been completely removed from Israel’s list of wanted Palestinians. From now on, the gunmen will be allowed to move around freely and without fear of being targeted by Israel.”

Over the past three months, the gunmen stayed in PA security installations after surrendering their weapons and signing a pledge to refrain from military activities against Israeli targets. The move was part of a deal reached between the PA and Israel under the auspices of the US last July.

According to the PA official, the “trial period” for another 178 Fatah gunmen has been extended for another three months, during which the gunmen will be required to stay in PA security installations before they receive a final pardon from Israel. During the second “trial period,” none of the gunmen will be targeted by Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli Army imposed blockade on a West Bank city of Jenin for the second day, which aimed to thwart possible suicide, attacks on the Jewish state.

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