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Israel Defends Action In Gaza, Says No Plans To Reoccupy


Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is defending the country's massive attack on Gaza, but says there are no plans to reoccupy the Hamas controlled territory.

Just hours after a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, the Israeli foreign minister appeared on American television to explain and defend the assault on the Gaza Strip.

In addition to hundreds of airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza, Israel has also called up army reservists, triggering fears of a ground assault. But speaking on NBC's Meet the Press, Livni denied Israel plans to re-occupy Gaza.

"Our goal is not to reoccupy Gaza Strip," she said. "We left Gaza Strip. We took our forces south. We dismantled our settlements. But since Gaza Strip has been controlled by the extremists and since Gaza Strip has been controlled by Hamas, and since Hamas is using Gaza Strip in order to target us, we need to give an answer to this."

Israel launched an air assault on Gaza on Saturday, following a series of rocket attacks on its territory and the collapse of a shaky truce that had been in effect for the past six months. In addition to calling up reinforcements, Israeli ground troops are being deployed along the border with the territory.

Livni told NBC Israel is sending a message to Hamas that it will protect its people. Earlier, she told the Fox News Sunday program the operation will last until Hamas understands it must change its ways.

"It will take the time which is needed in order to change the realities and up to the point at which Hamas understands that we can accept no longer the equation in which they target Israel and Israel shows restraint," Livni said.

Officials in Washington are keeping a close watch on the situation. The White House has blamed Hamas for initiating the latest round of Mideast violence with its rocket attacks on Israeli soil. Key members of the U.S. Congress are calling on all sides to show restraint.

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He appeared on ABC's This Week.

"All of us want to see an end to this conflict and see some long term peace settlement actually occur there," Corker said.

President-elect Barack Obama is also following developments in the region, but is not expected to make any public statements. David Axelrod - a top Obama advisor - told NBC Mr. Obama has been briefed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"He is monitoring the situation but we have said repeatedly during this transition period that there is only one president at a time and President Bush speaks for the United States of America until January 20," Axelrod said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama visited Israel as part of a tour of the region. At the time, he spoke about Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas.




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