Israel Prepares for Gaza Op

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - The Israeli Foreign Ministry launched a series of diplomatic initiatives to pave the way for a possible large-scale military incursion in the Gaza Strip.

Over the weekend, Israel's UN ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, filed a formal letter of complaint with Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon citing the increased rocket and mortar shelling on southern Israel by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

Foreign Ministry staff instructed Israeli consulates and embassies abroad to begin public relations efforts to correct misinformation about the Gaza Strip and to clarify that Hamas violated the cease-fire, not Israel.

Livni put in calls to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and to her counterparts in England, France, Germany and Russia.

Meanwhile, at Sunday's Cabinet meeting, ministers discussed how Israel should respond to the daily rocket and mortar shell barrages from Gaza.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak lashed out at Livni and Vice Premier Haim Ramon, who have both given ample media statements calling on Israel to respond to the attacks.

"I know it's a political time [preceding national elections], but we shouldn't engage in verbal assaults," Barak said.

Ramon defended his media sound bites.

"This has nothing to do with elections," Ramon said. "I've been talking for months about the need for a more aggressive stance against Hamas," he said, adding that "once there's a discussion and a decision…I won't say another word to the media."

Livni said it was "unacceptable" to expect ministers not to express opinions prior to an election.

"It is unacceptable to me that the defense minister demands that ministers not express their opinion on the eve of an election," Livni said.

Meanwhile, four days after the cease-fire officially ended, the situation in Gaza appears to be intensifying.

Palestinians fired 20 rockets on Israel Sunday and several mortar shells, injuring one person and causing extensive damage to a home in Sderot.

One rocket exploded on the outskirts of the coastal city of Ashkelon.

Israel Air Force (IAF) helicopters targeted a rocket launch pad, scoring two direct hits.

Palestinian gunmen fired at the helicopters, but neither the copters nor their crews were hit.

At Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet (General Security Agency) said Hamas has accrued longer-range missiles that can reach Beersheba and other communities beyond the Gaza periphery.

Diskin confirmed that Hamas used the six-month cease-fire to smuggle more weaponry, shore up its fighting forces and ready itself for war with Israel.

"They are ready for a confrontation," Diskin said.

According to the Shin Bet chief, the Palestinian Authority would like to see Israel take on Hamas.

"Don't be impressed with support for Hamas in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]," Diskin said.

"The mood of the Palestinian population there is, 'God willing, Israel will take Gaza and we'll get rid of Hamas,'" he said.

Sources: Haaretz, YNet news, The Jerusalem Post

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Tzippe Barrow

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