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Israeli forces are preparing a broad ground operation into the Gaza Strip and will decide in the coming hours on when to launch it, Israel's deputy defense minister said Sunday.
Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim spoke about the planned strike after a three-day barrage of homemade rockets and mortar rounds on Jewish settlements in Gaza and nearby towns. One woman was killed in a rocket attack Thursday.
"We are going for a broad operation in Gaza. No one trusts Abu Mazen anymore. No one believes he is going to confront terrorism," Boim told Israel Radio, referring to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
A senior political source said that the IDF would hold a large-scale incursion for an unlimited time. "Abbas has enough forces to restrain the militants, and he only needs to decide to use them," the source told Israel Radio.
Islamic Jihad has resumed mortar bomb and rocket salvoes against Jewish settlements in Gaza in what it calls retaliation for continued Israeli raids to capture wanted militants.
"The attempt yesterday to kill an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza signaled the resumption of the targeted killing policy," an Israeli security source told Reuters.
Khaled al-Batsh, a senior Islamic Jihad leader, warned of "terrible consequences" if Israel carried out assassinations.
"The calm would thereby end. We will not be dictated to by Israel," he told Reuters in Gaza.
Later, a senior adviser to Sharon said Israel could stage air strikes in Gaza, even at the risk of Palestinian civilian casualties, if militants tried to attack departing settlers in a bid to show they were chasing them out of occupied territory.
GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli helicopters fired missiles at five Palestinian targets in Gaza early on Friday in Israel's most intensive series of air raids since a five-month-old truce took hold in February.
The raids followed a Palestinian rocket strike that killed a 22-year-old Israeli woman in a collective farm on Thursday and sparked the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and police trying to stop further barrages.
The rocket volley was a setback for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had arrived in Gaza shortly beforehand to press militants to stick to their pledge of "calm" critical to hopes of reviving Middle East peacemaking.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he had instructed the army "to act without limitation to stop the strikes on Israeli communities" after rocket and mortar salvoes.
But Sharon later hinted Israel would not be quick to launch a major incursion into Gaza, telling his cabinet he would "weigh our response" to further truce violations.
Again, why hasn't Palestine/Abbas done more to disarm or halt Hamas?
In the West Bank town of Qalqiliya, Hamas won local elections earlier this year with promises of better government services, but also with assurances it would not impose its religious beliefs. However, two weeks ago, Hamas banned a one-day music festival in town, arguing that the mingling of men and women at such an event was "haram," or forbidden by Islam.