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Israel May Widen Military Role In Gaza Strip, Says PM Olmert

By Greg Myre
THE NEW YORK TIMES


JERUSALEM

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel said Monday that the Israeli military may expand operations in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to halt Palestinian rocket fire, but that there was no intention to reoccupy the territory.

His comments came on another day of turmoil — Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a Spanish aid worker in southern Gaza and held him for several hours before releasing him, and a Palestinian militant was killed in northern Gaza in disputed circumstances.

In a closed session with a parliamentary committee, Olmert was asked about the military’s plans for Gaza. Israeli forces, which re-entered the territory in late June after an Israeli soldier was seized, have been clashing with Palestinian militants almost daily. Several Israeli political and military officials have hinted recently that a larger operation could be coming.

A spokeswoman for Olmert, Miri Eisin, who was at the parliamentary session, quoted the prime minister as saying, “We aren’t going to reoccupy Gaza. But we will continue to fight terror, and there may be a change in the level of forces there at any given time.”

Olmert also said the military killed about 300 armed Palestinians in the past four months, according to Eisin. Monitoring groups have said that more than 250 Palestinians were killed during this time, about half militants and half civilians. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting.

In Gaza City, Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, said, “We call on the international community to intervene immediately to halt the Israeli aggression.”

On Monday, Mazen Abu Oudah, 20, a member of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, was killed by Israeli fire near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, according to Palestinian medical workers. However, the Israeli military said it had not been involved in any shooting in the area.

Also, Palestinians fired two rockets into southern Israel on Monday, Israeli officials said, but they caused no damage or injuries.