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Olmert Threatens Gaza Offensive as Truce Efforts Continue


Israel says time is running out for a peaceful resolution of the crisis in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, cease-fire efforts are continuing.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says Gaza is at a crossroads.

Mr. Olmert told the Cabinet that the daily Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza are intolerable.

Hinting at a major military offensive against the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, Mr. Olmert said this situation could not continue. He promised to restore peace and quiet to Israeli communities on the Gaza border.

Israel has been considering an offensive for months, but it held off because of this month's celebrations of its 60th anniversary and last week's visit by U.S. President George Bush.

Israel also fears an invasion of Gaza would cause high casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians, so it has not closed the doors on a ceasefire mediated by Egypt. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel Monday to Egypt to discuss a truce with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Under the truce proposal, both sides would halt attacks and Israel would lift its crippling blockade on Gaza. But Hamas has rejected two key Israeli conditions: an end to weapons smuggling from Egypt and the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held for nearly two years by Hamas militants in Gaza.