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JERUSALEM – Israel moved closer to invading Gaza, saying Thursday it had wrapped up preparations for a broad offensive after Palestinian militants
fired about 100 rockets and mortar shells across the border in two days.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (R) shakes hands with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during their meeting in Cairo, December 25, 2008.
Israel's foreign minister brushed off a call for restraint from Egypt's president, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a direct appeal to
Gaza's people to pressure their leaders to stop the barrages. But the attacks showed no signs of ending. By nightfall, three rockets and 15 mortar
shells had exploded in Israel.
Flare-up dims truce hopes along Israel-Gaza border
Egypt opens borders with Gaza
Rockets on Gaza border, truce ends
Olmert issued his appeal in a rare interview with the Arabic language satellite channel al-Arabiya, saying Israel would not hesitate to respond with
force if the attacks continued.
"I am telling them now, it may be the last minute, I'm telling them stop it. We are stronger," he said.
Thursday's rocket fire was far less than the barrage of 80 rockets the previous day, and there were no reports of injuries. But Israeli leaders said
the continued fire, the most intense since Egypt brokered a cease-fire last June, was unacceptable.
One of the mortar shells landed at Israel's passenger crossing with Gaza just as a group of Palestinian Christians was going through on their way to
the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas celebrations, the military said. Another rocket exploded after nightfall in an industrial park south of
the coastal city of Ashkelon, police said.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak invited Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to Cairo to discuss the possibility of renewing the truce, which expired
Friday. But by the time Livni arrived, she was in no mood to discuss a cease-fire, and she dismissed Mubarak's pleas for restraint.
"Enough is enough," she said afterward. "When there's shooting, there's a response. Any state would react that way."
In Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that "whoever harms the citizens and soldiers of Israel will pay a heavy price."
He did not elaborate. But defense officials, speaking on condition on anonymity because they were discussing classified information, said the Israeli
operation would likely begin with surgical airstrikes against rocket launchers and continue with a land invasion. Harsh weather conditions are
hampering visibility and complicating air force missions, so the operation won't be launched until the skies clear, they added.