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Haaretz reports that in the face of ongoing rocket and mortar attacks into Israel by Hamas, including some 22 shells fired Thursday and Friday, the Israeli cabinet has approved a " 'limited operation ... that will combine an air attack with some ground operations" in Gaza.
In statements Thursday, senior security officials were unwavering. "Anyone who harms Israeli citizens and soldiers will pay the price," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, speaking at the graduation of a pilots' training course at Hazerim Air Force Base, said, "We will have to use all of our might against the terror infrastructure and create a different security reality around the Gaza Strip."
Israel is planning a relatively short operation that will cause maximum damage to Hamas "assets." The defense establishment says the operation would not necessarily limit itself to stopping rocket launches and that during the operation, daily massive rocket launches can be expected. Hamas might fire rockets with a range beyond the 20 kilometers it has used so far.
Haaretz adds their sources said an Israeli ground operation would result in "many civilian casualties, especially in the Palestinian refugee camps."
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reports that both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who was in Cairo Thursday discussing Gaza with her Egyptian counterpart, warned Hamas that Israel was prepared to act to stop the Palestinian militants' ongoing rocket attacks.
"Hamas needs to understand that our aspiration to live in peace doesn't mean that Israel is going to take this kind of situation any longer," Livni said at the end of the meeting.
"Enough is enough. And while we are working with the pragmatic leaders, trying to change the situation on the ground in the West Bank, we cannot tolerate a situation in which Hamas continues to target Israel, Israel's citizens, and this situation is going to be changed."
Her sentiments were echoed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who called on the people of Gaza to turn against Hamas, the Islamist political and military organization that holds de facto control of the area.
"I'm telling them now it may be the last minute. I'm telling them stop it, we are stronger," Olmert said in an interview with Arabic satellite television channel al-Arabiya.
"There will be more blood there. Who wants it? We don't want it."
The increase in Israeli military rhetoric comes soon after a six-month-long truce between Israel and Hamas ended last week. Since then, Israel has suffered an increasing number of rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the conflict is further complicated by the impending political contests in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. Israel is set for an election on Feb. 10, while the term of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas –a member of Fatah, Hamas's rival – is set to expire on Jan. 9.