Israeli military sources reported on Saturday night that the Israeli army completed last week preparations for a possible major invasion of the Gaza Strip. Special training was conducted at the army command headquarters for units that might get involved in the attack.Yet, Israeli government sources said that the government prefers to avoid military escalation in the Gaza Strip.

Late last year, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz gave orders to advance the preparations for a possible military offensive in the Gaza Strip. The invasion would include infantry units, artillery and intelligence units that have undergone special training.

The training was mainly conducted in the Tzeelim military base in the south of the country, and the Southern Command headquarters held other training sessions last week.   

An Israeli online daily reported that the Israeli Air Force also took part in the training. The training programme for carrying out the military attack included fighters firing homemade shells into Western Negev settlements, and abductions of soldiers.

Meanwhile, senior Israeli security sources said that Israel “cannot avoid responding in the long term”, and that the power of armed groups in the Gaza Strip is growing.

Israeli intelligence assessments claimed that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad obtained rockets with a 15 kilometers range, and that both movements are still working on developing the range of their shells.

Israeli media sources also said that the army received approval to invade a “small area” in the Palestinian side of the fence surrounding the Gaza Strip to “prevent the Palestinian fighters from placing explosives near Israeli soldiers patrolling the border”.

Yuval Diskin, head of Israeli 'Shin Bet' security services, said two months ago that at least 10 arms smuggling tunnels had been dug in the area of the fence.

Yet, the Israeli army believes that the chances of such a military offensive in the Gaza Strip are slim in light of the negative outcomes of the war on Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, also said that a military offensive in “not the first thing” he seeks.