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09-28-2007, 04:43 PM
JERUSALEM (AFP) - A large-scale Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip aimed at ending near-daily rocket fire from the territory is "not imminent," a senior security official told AFP on Friday. "The army is not considering an imminent operation, but we have not excluded such an option since we continue to see more and more rockets," the official said on condition of anonymity. Israeli military radio also said that the army would hold off on a full-scale operation ahead of a US-sponsored international conference expected in November and aimed at resurrecting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. "The conference is an element we have to take into account, along with other elements, before we embark on such an operation," Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said. In recent days the army has stepped up operations aimed at halting rocket fire from Gaza, killing 13 people in 24 hours in a series of strikes condemned by both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his Hamas rivals. There has been heightened speculation that Israel may be preparing for a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip since it declared the Hamas-run territory a "hostile entity" on September 19. Earlier this week Defence Minister Ehud Barak told army radio that Israel was "nearing an extensive operation in Gaza in response to rocket firing. We have to weaken the Hamas regime and its grip on Gaza. "This operation will not be simple, both because of the forces that will have to be involved and the time limit that will be imposed on them," he added. Another factor may be the continuing tensions along Israel's northern border with Syria following a September 6 incident in which Syria accused Israeli fighter jets of violating its air space. Tensions have run high since the incident, which Israel has refused to comment on but which international media have said was an air strike on a suspected nuclear site. The Islamist Hamas movement, which took control of the Strip in June following a week of street battles with secular Fatah party rivals loyal to Abbas, is considered a terror organisation by Israel and the West. Israel accuses Hamas of doing nothing to stop rockets being fired almost daily at its towns near the Gaza border. The home-made missiles rarely wound anyone but leave residents in a constant state of fear.

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