Legal experts in the government say it is difficult to decide whether Israel can move Palestinian civilians from areas in the northern Gaza Strip where rockets are fired against Israel. They say international law is based on precedents, and in Israel's case the matter is in many ways unprecedented.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak had requested legal advice from Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and the military advocate general on the possibility of moving Palestinian civilians from the rocket-launching areas.

The idea would be to give the Israel Defense Forces greater room to maneuver and target rocket crews without endangering civilians.

At the meeting were Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan, Brigadier General Avichai Mandelblit - in his role as military advocate general - and legal experts from the army and Foreign Ministry.

During the meeting, Barak presented a series of possible operations the IDF could undertake in the Gaza Strip on which he asked for a legal opinion.

Barak raised options including cutting all fuel supplies to Gaza, firing single artillery shells against sources of rocket fire, clearing areas in the Strip from which Qassam rockets are launched, evacuating civilians from these areas, and shelling or bombing areas after warning the civilians to leave.

"We have a responsibility to the residents of Sderot and we cannot allow this [to continue] without providing an answer," Barak said at the meeting. "We must find ways to respond to the firing against Israel. I understand the legal limitation but we need to find the ways to make it possible to act."

Deputy Attorney General Shai Nitzan said the main principles on whose basis Israel's actions would be measured are proportionality and precision.

He said it is impossible to undertake an operation in which Israel will inform the Gaza population that every area from which rockets are fired will be hit by artillery.

"This is not proportional," Nitzan said. "It is possible to fire at the sources of fire, but specific areas need to be defined and efforts must be made to distinguish between fighters and civilians."

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai suggested declaring areas in the Gaza Strip "combat zones," and inquired whether it is possible to warn the residents there that they are in danger and recommend that they leave.

Vilnai also said this could be done through flyers or announcements in the media.

The legal experts were requested to prepare an opinion on a "gradual evacuation of the population" in Gaza from areas of fighting.