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Gaza operation to be widened, deepened if necessary
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Israel's ongoing operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip will be widened and deepened if necessary, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday.

"Hamas is responsible for everything that happens in Gaza and which emanates from it," Barak was quoted by local daily Ha'aretz as telling a Knesset (parliament) session. "This operation will be widened, deepened as we see fit."

Israeli defense establishment spent months preparing for the Gaza operation, the defense minister told the assembled lawmakers.

Israel is now engaged in a "war to the bitter end" against Hamas, said Barak, adding that the massive air strikes Israel launched beginning Saturday is aimed not at Gaza's residents but at the territory's Hamas rulers.

The goal of the operation is to force Hamas to stop its hostile actions directed at Israeli civilians, he said.

Israel quit all of Gaza three years ago to give a chance for a new reality on the ground, but Hamas had used the territory as a "terrorist haven," the defense minister added.

On Saturday, Barak told Sky News that he would not rule out widening the offensive in Gaza to include a ground invasion.

"There is a time for calm and a time for fighting, and now the time has come to fight," said the defense minister.

Asked whether Israel would follow up Saturday's air strikes with a ground offensive, Barak said, "If boots on the ground will be needed, they will be there."

(Xinhua News Agency December 29, 2008)

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