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World News

Israel: must prepare for possible Gaza escalation

Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli missile in Gaza March 1, 2008. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday Israel needed to prepare for a possible escalation of military action in the Gaza Strip. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday Israel needed to prepare for a possible escalation of military action in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces killed 61 people in Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday, the bloodiest day for Palestinians since an uprising against Israeli occupation began in 2000. Almost half the dead were civilians, including children.

Israel, which lost two soldiers in Saturday’s fighting, pushed deep into Gaza in an effort to stop Palestinian militants from firing rockets into southern Israel. The offensive was launched after a rocket killed an Israeli on Wednesday.

“We will continue our action with all our strength and we need to prepare for escalation, because a broad ground operation is real and tangible,” Barak told Israel Radio.

Barak said in a separate interview on Israel Army Radio: “This is not the broad ground operation, but whoever says there will not be a big ground operation speaks on his own behalf.”

One aim of any broad incursion into Gaza would be to “weaken the Hamas rule, in the right circumstances even bring it down,” he said.

The Islamist Hamas movement seized the Gaza Strip after routing forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last June.

Writing by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Ralph Gowling

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