Israel may be close to ending Gaza operation: Official

January 12th, 2009 - 3:32 am ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv, Jan 12 (RIA Novosti) Israel may be close to the end of its military operation in Gaza due to UN pressure for an immediate ceasefire, Israel’s deputy defence minister said Sunday. “The UN Security Council resolution does not leave us much leeway,” Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio. “It would seem that we are close to ending the ground operation and ending the operation altogether.”

Vilnai’s remarks contrasted with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s comments earlier Sunday, when he said Israel was close to achieving its goals in the Gaza Strip, but would continue its military operations until its southern regions are safe from rocket attacks.

Israel carried out more than 60 airstrikes on the Gaza Strip Saturday night, killing at least five Palestinians and injuring at least six. There were also reports that Israeli troops were stepping up ground operations in Gaza, moving deeper into heavily populated areas.

“Israel is approaching the targets it has set for itself, but more patience, determination and courage are needed for us to achieve those goals in a way that will change the security reality in the south, and for our citizens to feel long-term security and stability,” Olmert said during a weekly cabinet meeting Sunday.

Olmert also dismissed international calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying, “No country in the world, including those that preach morals to us, would have shown the restraint as we have.”

Regarding the Security Council’s Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Olmert said: “We have never allowed anyone to decide for us, whether we are allowed to strike those that hurl bombs at our kindergartens and schools and we never will agree to that in the future.”

A representative of Gaza’s health ministry told journalists that 854 Palestinians had died in Israel’s two-week-long operation on the enclave of 1.5 million people. He added that the total included 270 children, 68 women, and 90 elderly people.

He said that around 4,000 people had been wounded, including some 400 children who remained in serious condition.

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using white phosphorous in its attacks on Gaza. Israel has denied the claim. Israel’s casualties are estimated at 13 people, including 10 service personnel.

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