Hisham Aby Taha & Mohammed Mar’i
Arab News
June 11, 2008 - 3:56pm

GAZA CITY/RAMALLAH, 11 June 2008 — Israeli troops killed three Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip yesterday as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with top ministers to weigh up a possible military offensive on the besieged territory.

The meeting came a day after the parents of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held at a secret location by Gaza activists, received a letter from their son who was captured in a deadly cross-border raid two years ago. Israel’s political and military leaders have for months been mulling a wider military blitz in the impoverished coastal strip aimed at ousting its Hamas-run government and halting near-daily rocket attacks on Israel.

Olmert, whose political future is clouded by a scandal over corruption allegations, met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for more than two hours ahead of a Security Cabinet meeting today. All three declined to comment afterward.

Earlier yesterday, Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev told reporters they would discuss the situation in Gaza. “The current situation cannot last. The prime minister will discuss the various options available, including the use of force.” He said a decision was possible after the Security Cabinet meeting.

“There is no doubt that an offensive in Gaza is inevitable but the timing is the question,” a senior defense official said.

A majority of Israeli ministers expressed their support yesterday for escalated measures to end the threat of rocket attacks, with many of them calling for the launch of a wide-scale military operation in coastal enclave.

Housing Minister Ze’ev Boim said that “Israel must launch a large-scale operation in Gaza against Hamas and the rest of the terror organizations.” Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said he too was against a cease-fire agreement with the Islamist group. “It (truce) won’t last. Hamas will violate it and say that it has no control over the other groups on the ground,” he said, but added that the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit would change matters.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and chairman of religious party Shas Eli Yishai, Israel “cannot agree to a virtual cease-fire agreement without (abducted Israeli soldier Gilad) Shalit.” “We must see what alternatives the army proposes. We must act in Gaza; the question is when and to what extent,” he said.

Hamas issued a statement slamming Israel’s “escalations and threats,” calling them a “continuation of Israel’s attempt to impose its dictates on our people and sow terror among citizens. These threats and continuing murderous operations will not frighten us.”


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