The Israeli government announced on Wednesday that it had approved stepping up attacks targeting the Gaza Strip.

The announcement came after today’s cabinet meeting, headed by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Israeli media sources said that the Israeli army will continue operations targeting areas allegedly used by Palestinian resistance groups to shoot homemade shells into nearby Israeli areas. The raids will also target Hamas-run institutions.

According to reports, the army will also attack specific targets to be personally approved by Olmert, his Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The new orders do not specifically mention a wide scale military offensive against the Palestinian coastal region.

Haim Ramon, the Israeli Vice-Premier voted against the new orders, Israeli media reported. Instead he proposed that Israeli should announce a ceasefire.

Ramon said that Israel should inform all foreign ambassadors of their halt in the attacks on Gaza, then allow for deliveries of fuel and food, but if one homemade shell were to be fired from Gaza, the army most respond and cut fuel and food supplies again.

The Vice-Premier was quoted by Israeli online Haaretz as saying,
‘This will give Israel a public relations victory and fully legitimize any [military] action.’ He added, ‘Either we do that or we will be forced to reoccupy the Strip and pay a much higher humanitarian price’.

The Israeli attacks on Gaza, which escalated last Wednesday and continued through Monday morning, have left 120 Palestinians dead and over 300 injured. Of those killed during the five day offensive, at least 95 have been civilians.

The Hamas movement, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, after a bitter power struggle with President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, stated that the latest Israeli statement is ‘a continuation of the Israeli war against the Palestinians living in the coastal region’.

Fouzi Barhum, Hamas spokesperson, told IMEMC that ‘its no strange [decision that] Israel will decide to attack Gaza, Olmert’s government only knows the language of blood and war.’ Barhum added, ‘this is part of the ongoing Israeli war on the Palestinians and their resistance.’