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Israel says no time limit to Gaza "no-go zone"
Updated: 2005-12-29 15:54

Israel will continue shelling and air strikes to enforce a "no-go zone" in the Gaza Strip as long as it takes to stop Palestinian militants firing rockets, a top official said on Thursday.

Palestinians condemned the buffer zone as a re-occupation of land evacuated by Israel this year and said police would remain deployed in the area despite Israeli requests that they leave for their own safety.

Israeli artillery shelled northern Gaza through the night while aircraft struck routes used by militants to reach rocket launching grounds. Factions vowed to keep firing rockets but there were no immediate reports of any attacks.

"The operations will take as long as is needed to ensure that the fire against us will be curbed," Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Army Radio.

Israel says there is no plan for ground forces to re-enter Gaza. The aim is to step up air strikes and shelling from land and sea, but that has so far done little to stop the firing of rockets into the Jewish state.

"The Israeli determination to implement this plan will widen the cycle of the conflict and will not achieve the goals which Israeli occupation forces seek to achieve," the Palestinian Interior Ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday.

Rocket firing, which Palestinians say is retaliation for Israeli military action there and in the West Bank, is a political headache for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as he campaigns to win a third term on a platform of ending conflict.

Sharon's rightist opponents say the rocket fire proves their argument that withdrawing from the Gaza Strip in September after 38 years of occupation would not bring greater security.

On Wednesday, at least 12 artillery shells were fired into northern Gaza, wounding a Palestinian militant and a teenage bystander. At least nine shells were fired early on Thursday.

Growing violence since the Gaza pullout has put paid to hopes that it could serve as a spur to peacemaking.

Any major surge of bloodshed could also complicate Palestinian parliamentary elections in January and even force a delay.

Earlier this week, Abbas tried to get militant leaders in Gaza to agree to halt the cross-border rocket fire and renew a pledge to follow a ceasefire that brought 10 months of relative calm.

But a leader of Islamic Jihad, which has carried out suicide bombings despite the truce and fired regular rocket salvoes, said he did not believe there would be a ceasefire extension.

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