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Israel likely to expand military offensive in Gaza

The military offensive will not lead to an Israeli reoccupation of the coastal area it pulled out of last year, says PM Olmert.

india Updated: Oct 30, 2006 19:37 IST

Israel plans to expand its military offensive in the Gaza Strip and will decide soon on what kind of operation it will conduct, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday.

The military offensive will not lead to an Israeli reoccupation of the coastal area it pulled out of last year, Olmert was quoted as telling lawmakers at parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

Officials said the goal of an offensive would be to prevent arms smuggling along the porous Egypt-Gaza frontier.

"What has happened is that the border between the Palestinian border and Egypt has deteriorated and that may entail additional activities that we haven't done until now," Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Olmert, said.

"But that doesn't mean we're going to go back ... and reoccupy any part of Gaza."

Israel has been fighting in Gaza since June, when Hamas militants there carried out a cross-border raid, killing two soldiers and capturing a third.

However, the army has largely avoided acting in the border area with Egypt -- going in only once since its withdrawal last September.

Recently, Israel said that arms smuggling across the border had increased significantly, and newspaper reports that Israel planned to bomb the area led Egypt to reinforce its side of the frontier over the weekend.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said any additional military operations in Gaza, specifically along the border with Egypt, would be a "dangerous escalation."

Expanded or extensive Israeli military operations along the border could also increase tensions with Egypt.

On Saturday, Egyptian officials said 5,000 police officers had been sent to reinforce the border with Gaza.

Olmert also told the parliamentary committee that he would consider allowing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to beef up his security forces with troops stationed in neighboring Jordan. Palestinian officials said Saturday that Abbas, a moderate who is supported by Israel, wants to bring in the forces ahead of a possible showdown with the rival Hamas militant group.

Israel has objected in the past to letting members of the Jordan-based Badr Brigade enter Palestinian areas.

But on Monday, Olmert told lawmakers he would consider allowing such a move, said Ran Cohen, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

"If the addition of a military force will not hurt our security, then this will be considered favorably," Olmert was quoted as saying.

He did not mention the Badr force by name. Clashes have been intensifying in recent weeks between Abbas' Fatah Party and forces loyal to Hamas. The violence, concentrated in the Gaza Strip, has left more than a dozen dead and raised fears of a larger conflict.