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Israel is 'nearing Gaza goals'

Source:BBC News

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said Israel is nearing the goals of its military campaign in the Gaza Strip, as he signalled it would continue.

He urged more patience and effort, as Israel's troops reportedly engaged in fierce fighting in Gaza City.

Palestinian medical sources say 29 people were killed across Gaza on Sunday - 17 in Gaza City.

Israeli officials say at least 12 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israel.

Palestinian doctors say the total number of Palestinians who have been killed since the Israeli offensive began on 27 December is 879. Thirteen Israelis - 10 soldiers and three civilians - have died.

'Impressive gains'

As Israel's cabinet met in Jerusalem to consider its next move, Prime Minister Olmert said: "This is a time to translate our achievements into the goals we have set.

He praised the military's "impressive gains " in Gaza, adding: "Israel is nearing the goals which it set itself, but more patience, determination and effort is still demanded."

Referring to last week's UN Security Council call for an immediate ceasefire, Mr Olmert said "nobody should be allowed to decide for us if we are allowed to strike". Both Hamas and Israel have rejected the UN resolution.

The BBC's Mike Sergeant in Jerusalem says the military operation could well intensify before it ends.

Phosphorus controversy

The Israeli army meanwhile denied deploying white phosphorus bombs in Gaza, after Palestinian medics said they had treated patients for burns caused by the munition.

Army spokesman Capt Guy Spigelman told the BBC that Israel "categorically denied" using white phosphorus in Gaza, saying other "smoke bombs and flares" were being deployed.

Israel unleashed its Operation Cast Lead as a six-month truce between it and Hamas unravelled. It comes weeks before a parliamentary election in Israel.

Israel hopes the onslaught will greatly reduce the number of missiles fired from Gaza onto Israeli towns, and also erode support for Hamas.

The Islamist movement won elections in Gaza in 2006 before seizing control of the coastal strip a year later, ousting its secular Palestinian rival Fatah, which now holds sway in parts of the West Bank.

On Sunday militants fired a barrage of rockets from Gaza, two of which struck 42 km (26 miles) inside southern Israel at the city of Beersheba, causing damage but no casualties.

In clashes in Gaza City, at least 10 Palestinians died in a gun battle involving Israeli forces, while at least five Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli tank fire further north at Beit Lahiya, said medical officials.

The home of Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas's military wing, was destroyed in an air strike at Shujaia, a suburb of densely-populated Gaza City, according to the Israeli military.

Israel is preventing international journalists from entering the coastal strip, and none of the incidents can be independently confirmed.


Israel said its warplanes had also bombed sites on the Egypt-Gaza frontier near the town of Rafah, including a mosque allegedly used as a weapons storage depot and militant training camp.

Its ground forces were involved in a "number of incidents" as they pushed into the south of Gaza City and reached a key junction to its north, the Israeli military said.

Reports quoted Hamas and the smaller militant group Islamic Jihad as saying they had ambushed the Israelis, engaging them in heavy fighting.

Many Gaza City civilians have reportedly fled their homes.

Israel dropped leaflets and left phone messages on Saturday warning Gazans to stay away from areas used by Hamas and that the operation would soon enter "phase three".

On Sunday pro-Palestine demonstrations continued across the parts of the Far East and Middle East.

Speaking from exile in the Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal branded the Israeli operation a "holocaust," saying "the enemy has totally failed" and "created resistance in every house".

Aid agencies say Gaza's 1.5 million residents are in urgent need of food and medical aid.