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Israeli Troops Ready to Move into Gaza

The Israeli military says it has completed plans for a major offensive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip aimed at halting Palestinian attacks.

Army Chief, General Gabi Ashkenazi, said Wednesday a ground operation is ready to start, pending the government's approval.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Tuesday that Israel would eventually have to launch an extensive operation in Gaza to stop the frequent attacks from the coastal strip.

Earlier today, Israeli strikes killed two Hamas militants and wounded several others in Gaza.

Israel frequently carries out attacks against militants to prevent them from firing rocket and mortars toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. It has killed more than 20 militants in the past 10 days.

The militant Islamist group Hamas seized control of Gaza in June.

In other news, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged President Bush in a letter to urgently intervene to stop the Israeli settlement activity, especially in Jerusalem. A senior member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Salih Ra'fat, told reporters that the letter calls on Israel to adhere to the commitments made at the Annapolis peace conference last week.

The agreement calls on Israel to halt all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It calls on Palestinians to improve security.

But Israel on Tuesday invited bids for the construction of some 300 new homes in East Jerusalem.

Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev said the ban on new construction of Jewish settlements applies to territory in the West Bank. He says East Jerusalem falls under Israeli sovereignty.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Mideast war, but that annexation is not internationally recognized. Palestinians have called for East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they want to create.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.