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Barak: Israel’s operation in Gaza ‘closer than ever’

By Xinhua,

Jerusalem : Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday that Israel is likely to launch act against Palestinian militant groups in the Gaza Strip before ceasefire agreement can be reached.

Barak made the remarks during a tour to Kibbutz Nir Oz, where a51-year-old Israeli man was killed earlier in the day by a mortar shell fired from the nearby Gaza Strip.

“The military operation is closer than ever, and it will precede the cease-fire,” Barak was quoted by the website of local daily Yedioth Ahronoth as saying, “We are nearing the day of reckoning in the Gaza Strip, in which we will decide whether to goin the direction of an agreement of calm or a wide military operation.”

Israeli Finance Minister Roni Bar-On had called for a military action to Gaza to solve the problem, according to Israel Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to convene his security cabinet to discuss the situation in Gaza.

Earlier in the afternoon, an Israeli man was killed and four other people were wounded when Palestinian militants in Gaza Stripfired a mortar shell into Kibbutz Nir Oz in the western Negev.

Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades have claimed responsibility for the Qassam fire.

Spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister’s Office David Baker blamed Hamas for the attack and said it would be held accountable for salvos into southern Israel.

“Israel cannot and will not allow the situation to continue,” Baker said.

Since Hamas seized control of Gaza a year ago, Palestinian militants have fired rockets into Israel almost daily. Israel frequently responds with airstrikes and ground incursions into Gaza.