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Israel gets ready for 'all-out war against Hamas'

By Harinder Mishra in Jerusalem
December 29, 2008 21:03 IST
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Israel on Monday massed hundreds of tanks in expectation of a land strike on the Gaza Strip as fighter jets continued their blanket bombings of Hamas targets for the third day today, raising the toll of Palestinians killed to 315.

Amidst no let up in the fury and intensity of attacks even in the face of growing international calls for halt to the violence, Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel was in an 'all-out war against Hamas'.

"We have nothing against Gaza residents, but we are engaged in an all-out war against Hamas and its proxies," he said, indicating that a ground strike could be in the offing any time.

Barak said the Israelis were left with no other options as the Hamas had spurned "stretched hands in peace many times".

The Israeli defence minister, whose political career is said to be at stake, told the Parliament in a special session today that the Jewish state was not fighting the residents of Gaza "but we have a war to the bitter end against Hamas and its branches."

Barak said Israel would extend and increase its military operation in the Gaza Strip until all the goals were achieved. He told a stormy Knesset session that the operation "will be widened and deepened as is necessary".

Amid intensification of the Israeli offensive, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas has decided to put on hold peace talks with the Jewish state.

"There are no negotiations and there is no way there could be negotiations while there are attacks against us," Chief Palestinian negotiator, former prime minister Ahmed Qureia, told reporters.

The Syrian government, which had been holding indirect talks with Jerusalem in Turkish mediation, also called off talks in the wake of Israel's pounding of Gaza that has left rubbles of buildings all around, mainly targeting Hamas infrastructure.

The massive Israeli offensive has destroyed many symbols of power like a building next to deposed premier Ismail Haniyeh's house, government buildings, the Islamic University and dozens of security installations.

Health officials in Gaza said that the three-day death toll in Gaza has risen to 315, including seven children under the age of 15 who were killed in two separate strikes late Sunday and Monday.

In an unprecedented offensive, the largest since the 1967 war, Israel launched a massive operation in Gaza strip on
Saturday attacking Hamas, which has taken control of the coastal territory since vanquishing Palestinian Authority forces in June 2006.

Barak today cited a comment made by United States President-elect Barack Obama, who visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot during his election campaign earlier this year.

"Obama said that if rockets were being fired at his home while his two daughters were sleeping, he would do everything he could to prevent it," the Israeli defence minister told the House.

The Israeli strikes appear to have gravely damaged Hamas' ability to launch rockets on Israel's southern communes as the army had warned citizens of attacks in the range of 200 rocket strikes per day.

However, a medium range rocket fired at the Israeli city of Ashkelon today killed a man and left 14 others injured, some of them seriously.

"I'm standing next to the body," Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin told Israel Radio by telephone adding, "To my great
regret, we have a fatality. He was killed."

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Harinder Mishra in Jerusalem
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