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Israel Faces Decision In Gaza Fighting

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Israel Faces Decision In Gaza Fighting

Middle East

Israel Faces Decision In Gaza Fighting

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Israel's military pressed deeper into Gaza today, the 16th day of the offensive. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his cabinet that the incursion is nearing its goals. But he gave no sign that Israel would end its operations in Gaza anytime soon. Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that controls Gaza, also gave no indication that it was ready to cease its rocket launches against Israel. The number of dead among Palestinians is now closing in on 900, according to United Nations figures, with more than 3,700 injured. Israel's death tolls stands at 13. NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Jerusalem.

MIKE SHUSTER: It's been a particularly bloody weekend in Gaza. According to figures compiled by United Nations agencies, at least 70 Palestinians died since Saturday, with more than 200 injured. Most of those killed were non-combatants, according to medical workers in Gaza. They died as a result of Israel's relentless air bombardments, and as a result of some intense ground operations involving infantry and tanks along the southern edge of Gaza City. U.N. officials said today that of the almost 900 Palestinians killed so far in this war, more than 40 percent have been women and children.

Israeli military and political leaders believe the offensive has severely eroded Hamas' military capabilities. It may have reduced the number of rockets launched against Israel from Gaza as well, but it has not ended them. The Israeli offensive appears to have reached a crossroads. Israeli newspapers are filled with speculation about what the next phase will be - whether Israel will increase the number of its troops in Gaza and press the fight against Hamas more deeply into Gaza City and other heavily populated areas of the territory, or whether comments like Olmert's today, that Israel is nearing its goals, may be laying the groundwork for an Israeli decision to declare an end to the offensive.

Late today, a spokesman for the Israeli military said additional units of reservists have now been deployed to Gaza, a possible sign that Israel intends to widen its operations there. Mike Shuster, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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