Only Israel will decide when Gaza offensive ends: Minister (Lead)

January 12th, 2009 - 3:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Gaza City, Jan 12 (DPA) Only Israel will decide when it will stop its offensive in Gaza, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Monday, as the air force struck more targets in the strip and ground troops battled with militants on Gaza City’s outskirts.”I don’t accept that in a war against terror the UN decides when to stop,” Livni told Israel Radio Monday morning.

Israel when it takes care of itself does it best, she said defiantly.

Israel did not estimate that the international community expected it to implement Thursday’s UN security council resolution, which calls for an immediate ceasefire.

Israel had “worked around the clock” to try and put off the resolution. Deflecting criticism, Livni said she did not attend the UN debate in order not to grant it “legitimacy” by being present.

She said the Gaza offensive had restored Israel’s “deterrence” against militant factions seeking to attack it, hurt Hamas’ ability to fire rockets against it and “changed the equation” between it and the radical Islamic movement ruling Gaza.

Hamas now understands that Israel will act “wildly” to any attacks against it, she said regarding the “deterrence”.

Israel was now acting to prevent Hamas from stocking up on new long-range rockets and wanted both Egyptian and international assistance in stopping weapons-smuggling to Gaza, which she said had to be blocked “also beyond Egypt”.

“One has to understand it begins in Iran,” she said.

Livni declined to say whether the offensive was in its final stages or when it would end.

She said any decision to end the offensive would be made “quietly” because Hamas leaders hiding underground in Gaza were listening to the radio’s Arabic service. “I won’t give them that perk,” she said.

The Israel Air Force meanwhile kept up its attacks in Gaza, striking more targets from the air overnight, albeit a significantly smaller number than in the earlier stages of the war.

A military spokesman in Tel Aviv said the Israeli Air Force attacked 12 targets throughout Gaza overnight, mostly houses of Hamas activists which he said were storing rockets and hiding tunnels.

A few rocket-launching sites were also hit, as well as another smuggling tunnel near the border with Egypt.

Witnesses also reported Israeli naval shelling along the coast, and exchange of fire between ground troops and militants on the outskirts of Gaza City.

While Israeli ground troops have not yet moved into the hearts of populated areas in Gaza, they moved into another neighbourhood on the city’s outskirts Sunday, Sheikh Ajleen, in the west near the beach, sparking fierce firefights with local gunmen.

Chief military spokesman, Brigadier Avi Benayahu, told a television interview Sunday night that the army was now using reserve troops in the fighting.

He refused, however, to say whether this indicated that the third stage of the Gaza offensive - moving deeper into populated areas with larger numbers of troops - had begun, or was imminent.

Hamas, meanwhile, kept up its rocket attacks at Israel, with militants launching some 20 rockets Sunday and several more Monday morning.

The death toll stood at over 900 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed, as the offensive - aimed at curbing seven years of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against southern Israel - entered its 17th day Monday.

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