Israel says nearing goals of Gaza offensive
Israel indicated for the first time on Sunday that an end was in sight to its war In Gaza Strip. On the ground however 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 Hamas.
Israeli troops moved into the southern Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood in the early morning hours, encountering roadside bombs, mortar and gunfire from Palestinian fighters, witnesses said. The troops withdrew at daybreak, but hundreds of panicked residents fled from the area. 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.
In all, at least 26 Palestinians have been killed in clashes on Sunday, medics said.
Israeli officials suggested the Jewish state was nearing the end of its 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 was nearing the goals it had set for its operation, but said fighting would 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," Olmert said at the start of the cabinet meeting, according to AFP.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters that Israel was "examining the diplomatic channel" while continuing its offensive. "There's no contradiction between the two," said Barak.