The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened on Saturday to conduct " a harsh military operation" against Gaza soon in order to stop the Palestinian homemade shells from being fired from the coastal region into nearby Israeli areas.

Olmert made his comments upon arriving in Israeli after visiting the U.S where he met with White House officials and presidential candidates.

This threat comes shortly after Tony Blair, the envoy to the region by the Qartet committee for peace in the Middle East, stated that a truce deal between the Hamas movement that controls Gaza and Israel is unlikely to happen.

Last week, representatives of the ruling Hamas party in Gaza, including Mahmoud Al-Zahar, returned “empty handed” from Cairo, while Egyptian mediators had no response from Israel in regard to the Hamas ceasefire offer, mediated by Cairo in April.

The Egyptian-mediated ceasefire stipulates that Hamas will halt the firing of homemade shells into Israeli territory, in exchange for Israel lifting the 12 month-blockade and ceasing all military attacks against the Gaza Strip.

Israel has set two further demands; the release of a captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and ensuring an end to alleged “arms smuggling” through underground tunnels on the Egypt-Gaza borders.

In response to Olmert's threats on Saturday, Sami Abu Zuhri, the spokesperson of the Hamas Movement, stated that his group does not "fear the Israeli army, and any invasion will be dealt with".

The democratically-elected Hamas movement took full control of Gaza in June 2007, amidst factional infighting with the Fatah party, headed by President Abbas. Abbas subsequently ordered a boycott of Hamas, and formed a western-backed government in the West Bank city of Ramallah.