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Israel to Step Up Military Offensive in Gaza


Israel is stepping up its military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been on a collision course since an Israeli soldier was kidnapped last week from an army base on the Gaza border.

Israel's Security Cabinet has authorized the army to send troops into Palestinian towns in northern Gaza. The military was also given a green light to proceed with plans to carve out a buffer zone in a bid to end weeks of rocket attacks on Israeli border communities.

The cabinet called an urgent meeting after a rocket fired Tuesday from Gaza hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon. It caused no injuries, but it is a sign that Palestinian militants have improved the capabilities of their homemade Kassam rockets.

[Palestinian militants have fired a second rocket at Israel's southern coastal city of Ashkelon, as Israeli tanks advanced in the Gaza Strip in an effort to halt such attacks. Israeli officials say no one was injured in the rocket attack late Wednesday. But news reports say several people, including two children, were suffering from shock.]

The military wing of the ruling Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Tensions between Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian government have escalated since gunmen from the group kidnapped an Israeli soldier 10 days ago.

The planned ground offensive in Gaza is the first since Israeli soldiers and settlers withdrew from the territory nearly a year ago. Spokesman Ra'anan Gissin says the Israel Defense Forces will achieve its objectives no matter how long it takes.

"We have no intention of staying in Gaza or perpetuating this operation forever," Gissin said. "But if it will be necessary, we will continue to apply the pressure. We will continue in, I would say, a very rich menu of means available to the I.D.F. which it has not yet exhausted it."

Moderate Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat urged Israel to reconsider.

"I do not know what will this do other than strengthen extremism, add to the complexities, enlarge the cycle of violence and that is my point," Erekat said.

Israeli officials say Hamas crossed a line with the kidnapping of the soldier and the rocket attack on Ashkelon. Hamas says if Palestinians are killed, there will also be blood on the streets of Israeli cities.

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