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Olmert: Israeli army approaching Gaza operation goals
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is approaching goals set for Operation Cast Lead in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Olmert made the remarks in a statement issued by his office at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

He said that it is time to "translate our accomplishments into attaining our goals," stressing that what had been achieved so far in an "unprecedented effort" must not be lost at the last moment.

"Israel is approaching the goals it set for itself, but we require further patience, determination and effort so that our citizens can feel safety and stability," said Olmert.

"The Israeli public, especially the residents of the south, have the requisite patience and willingness -- so does the government," he urged.

Olmert also hit back at the mounting international criticism of the IDF operation in Gaza, which entered its 16th day on Sunday, killing more than 800 Palestinians.

"No country in the world -- not even those who preach morality to us -- would have shown similar patience and self-control," he said in the statement.

"We have never agreed that someone should decide for us if we are allowed to strike at those who bomb kindergartens and schools and we will never agree to this in the future," continued the prime minister.

Olmert defended Israeli security cabinet's decision to continue the Gaza operation in spite of Thursday's United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution which called for an immediate and durable ceasefire.

On Friday, Israeli security cabinet decided to continue the IDF operation in Gaza, but not expand it at this stage.

"I must note that UNSC Resolution 1860 also sharply rules out continued attacks directed against civilians and does not forbid urgent action against them," he said.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Operation Cast Lead was continuing even as diplomatic options were being examined.

The IDF is continuing to act in order to restore quiet to southern Israel and to prevent weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza, said Barak.

"The IDF is operating by air, land and sea and is also exploring the diplomatic channel," he said. "There is no contradiction between the two."

In the coming days, Israel will focus its military and diplomatic efforts on pressuring Egypt to work toward a demand to deploy an international force to combat weapons smuggling from Egypt to Gaza, said local daily Ha'aretz.

According to the report, Amos Gilad, the head of Israeli Defense Ministry's political-security branch, will travel Cairo this week, most likely on Monday, for talks with the head of the Egyptian security services.

Citing a political source in Jerusalem, Ha'aretz said Gilad was instructed to address the only issue of weapons smuggling into Gaza, and not other issues related to renewing a ceasefire with Hamas.

(Xinhua News Agency January 12, 2009)

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