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Israeli Prime Minister Vows to Continue Gaza Raids


Israel pounded the Gaza Strip with new air strikes Monday, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert defended the military offensive criticized by some other countries.

Palestinian officials say three militants were killed and at least five others wounded in Israeli air raids over Gaza City. The Israeli military says the attack was aimed at militants firing rockets into Israel.

Prime Minister Olmert told foreign journalists operations to force militants to free an Israeli soldier and halt rocket fire would continue indefinitely. Mr. Olmert rejected mainly European criticism of the scale of the Israeli operation, saying Israel's pullout from Gaza in September has brought only continued violence.

More than 50 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed in two weeks of clashes in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has warned a military escalation will not win the soldier's safe return.

Meanwhile, the exiled political leader of Hamas says Israel must release Palestinian prisoners it is holding if it expects to win the release of a captured Israeli soldier.

Khaled Meshaal says the Palestinian people are united on the prisoner-swap issue. Speaking to reporters Monday in Damascus, Meshaal condemned Israel's military incursion into Gaza. He also denounced the international community for what he said was its focus on the captured Israeli soldier, rather than on pressuring Israel to stop its attacks on Palestinians.

Israel has threatened to kill Meshaal, and his supporters used elaborate security arrangements for today's news conference -- telling reporters first to gather at one location, then using buses to transfer the journalists to a second, secure meeting site.

Hours after he spoke, Palestinian officials say a new Israeli airstrike killed one person and wounded several others near Gaza City Monday.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.