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Israel's Olmert Says No Timeframe on Gaza Offensive


Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, on Sunday said the military operation in Gaza is not open-ended, but he refused to say when the offensive will end. More than 40 Palestinians, most of them militants, and one Israeli soldier have been killed since Israel's expanded military operation began last week. U.N. officials are warning of a worsening humanitarian situation in the northern Gaza Strip.

Israel continued its military operations Sunday in and around the town of Beit Hanoun. Israeli aircraft carried out missile strikes in the area, but Palestinian militants continued to fire their homemade Qassam rockets at towns in southern Israel, nearly a week after Israeli forces began a large military operation to halt the attacks.

Speaking as his cabinet met on Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel hopes to diminish the threat of the Qassams, and that the operation around Beit Hanoun in not open-ended.

Mr. Olmert says Israel intends to stop what he describes as the terror coming from Gaza, but has no intention of reoccupying the territory.

Israeli military authorities expressed regret for the death of a 12-year old girl on Saturday. She was shot by an Israeli sniper who Israeli authorities say was aiming at a Palestinian militant.

On Friday, two Palestinian women were killed by Israeli troops in a chaotic demonstration by Palestinian women acting as human shields for Palestinian militants. The militants escaped from a mosque in Beit Hanoun that was under siege by Israeli forces.

John Ging, the director of the Gaza office of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in Gaza City, says after nearly a week of Israeli military operations, the situation in Beit Hanoun is rapidly deteriorating.

"The words that I am using to describe the situation are death, destruction and despair. So many people have been killed and injured in the last couple of days, including six children and two paramedics," he said. "So the situation is extremely dangerous. The despair comes from within the minds of the population who have endured a lot over the last period and now this is adding to their woes."

Israel's military says it is working to ensure that food and medical supplies reach areas affected by the fighting and that the wounded can be evacuated. Israeli military authorities say over 300 Qassam rockets have been launched from Beit Hanoun since the beginning of this year out of a total of about 800 launched from the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has appealed to the U.N. Security Council to stop the Israeli military incursion. U.S. officials say Israel has the right to defend itself from attacks but have urged Israeli officials to ease restrictions on Gaza crossing points to allow increased humanitarian assistance to reach Palestinians.

One Palestinian militant group, the Popular Resistance Committees, has threatened to resume suicide bombings in Israel if the military operation in Beit Hanoun is not stopped soon. Israeli officials have not commented publicly on the threat.

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