Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered his military to carry out limited pinpoint operations inside the Gaza Strip, in what Israel termed ‘foiling more Qassam-rocket fire at Israel and the potential kidnapping of soldiers’.

A statement delivered Wednesday following a meeting of Israeli security officials, read “the Israeli army is authorized to carry out limited operations in Gaza in order to foil kidnapping and terror attacks in the future”.

Israel’s potential response would threaten a five-month ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestinians, reached in November 2006 after the Israeli army committed a massacre in northern Gaza killing 19 civilians, including 8 children and women from one family.

Hamas announced Tuesday that it launched a barrage of homemade shells at various Israeli targets near the Gaza Strip. The Hamas shells left no Israelis injured and only caused damage to open fields. A statement released by the Hamas’s militant offshoot, Ezzildin Alqassam, said the rocket fire was retaliation to the latest spate of Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank, in which 9 Palestinians were killed, including bystanders.

The statement considered the November ceasefire ‘dead’. In the meantime, Egyptian security Chief Burhan Hammad, who is present in the Gaza Strip, warned Wednesday of the percussions of a potential Israeli military offensive on Gaza. He voiced concern over the collapse of the ceasefire. Hammad called upon the Palestinian groups to return to the truce and refrain from launching homemade shells to avert Israeli army attacks.

Palestinian cabinet spokesman, Ghazi Hammad, voiced the same concern yesterday saying that the latest Israeli attacks on Gaza have undermined the ceasefire and that the Palestinian cabinet, dominated by Hamas, is interested in a ‘sustainable ceasefire agreement with Israel’.

Israel has frequently attacked the Gaza Strip over the past year, the most deadly offensive was in June 2006 and claimed the lives of more than 500 Palestinian men, women and children and caused a great deal of destruction to Gaza’s main infrastructure facilities.

Israel said its attack aimed at freeing corporal Gilad’s Shalit, who was captured by armed Palestinian groups following a spate of Israeli assassination attempts of resistance leaders in Gaza. Shalit is still being held in Gaza and could be possibly swapped for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners which Israel still holds, along with thousands of others. Almost half of these prisoners have not undergone trial and a further ten percent have not been charged with a crime.