Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert played down the chances of expanded Israeli military action for now in the Gaza Strip to counter Hamas' military build-up but said the army would be ready to act if other options failed.
Israeli security sources estimate that Hamas now has about 10,000 fighters, and claim that the Islamic Resistance Movement's armed wing has been busy digging tunnels and upgrading its rocket arsenal for a possible confrontation. "We won't be deterred from using military activity if we come to the conclusion, after an intense, level-headed examination, that there is no better way... But that is not the situation (currently)," Olmert told Israel's Channel 2 television in an interview aired on Saturday.
"The question is: Does it have to be military activity? If it has to be military activity by us, does it have to be right now?" Olmert said when asked about warnings by top security advisers about Hamas' build-up.
The Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday that the Israeli army completed its preparations for a possible major incursion in the Gaza Strip, including special training.
On his part, Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, said it would be ready for any conflict with Israel. "Raiding Gaza will not be that easy and they will be surprised of the tactics we will use," Abu Ubaida told Reuters.
In an interview with Time magazine released on Friday, Olmert called Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas a "terrorist" and accused him of recently transferring more than $1 million to Hamas fighters to carry out attacks against Israel. "This is a medal of honour to the prime minister," Abu Ubaida said of Olmert's calimss. "The prime minister was born from the womb of resistance and therefore, he should stand beside the resistance and he should resist these pressures."