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Olmert convenes security cabinet over Gaza violence


Gaza : Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened his inner security cabinet Wednesday morning to debate how to proceed with a two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip in response to intense rocket-fire from the area at southern Israel.

Several ministers in the 12-strong forum are demanding an intensification of the offensive, including Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defence minister and army chief, who said that political leaders of the ruling Palestinian Hamas movement should be included in Israel's "basket of targets," Israel Radio reported.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni accused Hamas of "exploiting" any period of calm to rebuild itself and plan attacks at dates "convenient" for it.

Militant factions in Gaza have launched nearly 270 rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot and its environs since mid-May, when they escalated their rocket-fire in a bid to restore Palestinian unity and end a week of deadly internal fighting.

Hamas has taken responsibility for most of the rockets launched.

Israel meanwhile pressed on with its airstrikes overnight, killing two militants of the radical Islamic group near the northern Gaza Strip town of Jabaliya as they were trying to launch a Hamas-made Qassam rocket at Israel before dawn Wednesday, Palestinian security officials reported.

On Tuesday, a Palestinian security officer and a militant were killed in evening gunbattles with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Jenin, after two Hamas militants were earlier killed in exchanges of fire with ground troops in southern Gaza.

Three Islamic Jihad militants also died when an explosive device they were preparing blew up by accident in their central Gaza house.

Some 52 Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed in the mutual attacks in and from Gaza during the past fortnight.