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 Gaza conflict nearing an end - Israel

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Annie

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PostSubject: Gaza conflict nearing an end - Israel   Sun Jan 11, 2009 5:25 pm

Gaza conflict nearing an end - Israel
From correspondents in Gaza City
Agence France-Presse
January 11, 2009 11:30pm

ISRAEL has indicated for the first time today that an end is in sight to its war on Hamas, amid some of the heaviest clashes of an offensive that has killed nearly 900 people in the Gaza Strip.

Infantry units backed by tanks pushed deeper into Gaza's main city, sparking some of the fiercest battles yet of the 16-day-old war Israel launched on the Islamists in response to rocket fire from their stronghold.

But Israeli officials suggested the Jewish state is nearing the end of its deadliest ever offensive in the Palestinian enclave, despite having last week waved off a UN Security Council resolution calling for a halt to the fighting.

"The decision of the (UN) security council doesn't give us much leeway,'' Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told public radio.

"Thus it would seem that we are close to ending the ground operation and ending the operation altogether.''

Earlier, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Jewish state is nearing the goals it has set for its operation, but said fighting will continue for the time being.

"Israel is approaching these goals, but more patience and determination are required in order to reach these goals'' and "change the security reality in the south in a way that will allow our citizens to live in security and stability over a long period of time,'' Mr Olmert said at the start of the cabinet meeting.

Both Israel and Hamas last week brushed off the UN Security Council resolution that called on both sides to stop fighting, and the early Sunday hours saw Israeli troops push deep into the territory's main population centre.

Troops crept into the southern Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood in the early morning hours, encountering roadside bombs, mortars and gunfire from Palestinian fighters, witnesses said.

The troops withdrew at daybreak, but hundreds of panicked residents fled from the area, clutching small children and hurriedly-packed bags after a sleepless night.

"We waited until today to flee. We couldn't take anything with us, not even milk for the children,'' said Ibtissame Shamallah.

Civilians again fell victim in Israel's offensive in the Palestinian enclave, one of the world's most densely populated places where every other person of the 1.5 million population is under 18 years of age.

Two women and four children were killed in a strike on a house in Beit Lahiya, medics and witnesses said. Twelve bodies were pulled from the rubble in Tal al-Hawa, 10 of them fighters, medics said.

Hamas and its allies fired more than 10 rockets into Israel, with the projectiles slamming as far as 40km inside the Jewish state, without causing injuries.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that Israel is "examining the diplomatic channel'' while continuing its offensive.

"There's no contradiction between the two,'' said Barak, who is due to again send senior aide Amos Gilad to Cairo in the coming days for Egyptian-led talks on ending the war.

Israeli warplanes bombed more than 60 targets throughout the Gaza Strip overnight and into Sunday morning, hitting weapons depots and smuggling tunnels as well as a mosque that was allegedly used to store weapons and train fighters, the army said.

At least 26 Palestinians were killed in clashes today, medics said.

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,24900316-23109,00.html
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