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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Authorizes Offensive in Residential Areas of Gaza

JERUSALEM, Russia -- Israeli leaders on Wednesday authorized the army to send troops into residential areas of Gaza and gave the green light for the military to push ahead with a plan to create a buffer zone meant to prevent militants from firing rockets into Israel, officials said.

The Security Cabinet's decision, stepping up a ground offensive in Gaza, indicated Israel could be prepared to partially reoccupy Gaza less than a year after withdrawing all troops and settlements from the area.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened the urgent meeting after Hamas militants fired a rocket into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon late Tuesday. Although the attack caused no injuries, it was the first time a rocket has flown so far into Israel, signaling that militants have improved the range of their primitive weapons and escalating a crisis over a captured Israeli soldier.

After the Security Cabinet meeting, Olmert and Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with top military officials to decide which parts of a broad invasion should be immediately implemented, including the possibility of the buffer zone.

Olmert's office denied the Cabinet had approved the formation of such a zone. But meeting participants said the ministers had all agreed that a standing plan by the army to create a buffer zone could be an effective way of preventing rocket fire. It was not clear when or if the security zone would be established.

An official statement from Olmert's office gave no details about the military operation, but said the army would continue to go after Hamas militants and their infrastructure. It said the army had been ordered to "prepare for a phased and continuous" operation.