Barak: Gaza sweep near

Israel is close to ordering a major military sweep of the Gaza Strip, Ehud Barak said.

Briefing troops on Israel’s efforts to counter Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday: “The time for a broad operation is approaching, though this is not something we seek with alacrity.”

Brigadier Moshe Tamir, a senior commander of Israeli forces around Gaza, told military correspondents that Hamas is quickly building up a formidable fighting force in the congested territory.

Israel tried this week to begin imposing economic sanctions on Palestinians in Gaza in the form of cutbacks to fuel and electricity supplies. But those measures have drawn criticism at home and abroad.

Political analysts say Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is unlikely to order a major Gaza operation before his U.S.-sponsored peace conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

But Israel believes Hamas may launch a terrorist attack in a bid to scuttle the Annapolis conference, something that could require strong retaliation.

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