Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that no external body would ever be allowed to determine Israel's right to defend itself against security threats.

"We have never agreed that someone should decide for us if we are allowed to strike at those who bomb kindergartens and schools and we will never agree to this in the future," he told ministers during the Cabinet's weekly meeting in Jerusalem. "No decision, present or future, will deny us our basic right to defend the residents of Israel.

"For three weeks now, the State of Israel has been making an impressive military effort in the Gaza Strip in order to change the security situation in the south of the country," said the prime minister.

"For many years we've demonstrated restraint. We reined our reactions. We bit our lips and took barrage after barrage. No country in the world - not even those who preach morality to us ? would have shown similar patience and self-control," he told ministers.

"At the end of the day, the sense of responsibility and the obligation to defend our citizens, after endless warnings, led us to the unavoidable decision to defend our children and our residents whose lives had become intolerable," he added.

Olmert vowed that the Israel Defense Forces would press on with its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, asserting that Israel was close to achieving its goals.

"Israel is approaching the goals it set for itself, but another effort is needed, and determination, in order to change the security reality in the South and to bring security to the citizens," Olmert said.

The prime minister's comments came after Israeli soldiers advanced into densely-populated Gaza City on Sunday, reportedly killing at least 10 Palestinian gunmen.

Olmert added that, "We must not miss at the last moment what has been achieved in an unprecedented national effort. The Israeli public has willingness and patience for this, as does the government."

The prime minister said Israel had rejected a United Nations resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza on the grounds that "sharply rules out continued attacks directed against civilians and does not forbid urgent action against them."

He also said Israel's military had already made great sacrifices in the Gaza fighting, in which 10 soldiers have so far died.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also addressed the cabinet, telling them that the IDF was continuing to operate in order to prevent smuggling through the Philadelphi route along the Gaza-Egypt border.

"The IDF is operating in the Gaza Strip and in parallel, the diplomatic channel is being examined. There is no contradiction between these things," Barak said.

Livni: Gaza battle isn`t one-time conflict, won't end in accord Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that Israel's war with Hamas is not a one-time conflict that will end with an agreement.

Speaking during a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Jerusalem, Livni said that, "Hamas regrets the day they decided to intensify the rocket fire on Israel under the assumption that we would show restraint."

"We need to understand that on the day after [Operation Cast Lead] we must prevent Hamas from rearming, because we cannot allow a scenario in which Hamas understands that it cannot fire, but allows itself to stock up on weapons," she added.

"We are in midst of a struggle against terrorism, and it is not a one-time conflict," she said.

This is not a conflict that will end with an agreement. We embarked on this campaign with the intent of achieving military goals and in order to clarify that we will not put up with this situation any longer. We set out to change the equation. Israel is responding with force, and considerable force at that," Livni added.

"I would like to thank the [German] minister for displaying understanding for our situation and for his willingness to help in preventing smuggling in the future."

On Friday, the security cabinet decided to continue Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, but not expand it at this stage. In the coming days Israel will focus its military and diplomatic efforts on pressuring Egypt to work toward the Israeli and international demand to deploy an international force to combat smuggling from Egypt to Gaza.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that Cairo demanded Saturday morning that the militant group respond to its cease-fire proposal within 48 hours. Egypt warned that if Hamas rejects its offer, Egypt would be unable to stop Israel from continuing its ground offensive.

Senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces told Haaretz that for further achievements, the army will have to expand the operation by at least 20 days and include reserve units in the fighting. A senior officer in Gaza said Hamas' capabilities were gradually eroding and that the group had lost more than 300 militants from its armed wing since the ground operation began.

Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's political-security branch, will travel this week, most likely on Monday, for talks in Cairo with the head of the Egyptian security services. A Hamas delegation Saturday arrived in the Egyptian capital for similar talks.

Source: Amos Gilad to only discuss smuggling with Egyptians

A political source in Jerusalem said Gilad was instructed to address only smuggling into Gaza, and not other issues related to renewing a cease-fire with Hamas.

In Friday's cabinet meeting, Gilad told ministers that Egypt understands the need to stop smuggling, but that a program for doing so had not yet been formulated. "They are willing to sign on to deal with the issue, and we will continue talking with them until we reach a practical solution," he said.

Still, Gilad reportedly remarked recently that "the Egyptians are great at making efforts, but not at achieving results."

A high-level Israeli political source said Friday that without a solution to the smuggling including an effective supervisory system on the Egyptian border, the Gaza operation will not be brought to an end.

Israel made clear in talks with officials representing the United States, France, Germany and other countries that only a solution including an international presence on the Egyptian side of the Philadelphi route will satisfy Israel and allow it to end the offensive.

Defense officials have noticed heightened Iranian involvement in Hamas' activity in the Strip. It appears the group's leadership has received promises from Tehran to "fill up the warehouses," possibly even with longer-range rockets, if it continues hostilities with Israel.

Meanwhile, Damascus-based politburo chief Khaled Meshal Saturday rejected outright the option of allowing an international force at the Egyptian border, whether representing an Arab or any other foreign country.

Israel has "finished off the last chance and breath for settlement and negotiations," he said in a televised speech from the Syrian capital.

Also Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized Hamas, saying the Palestinian people did not want to engage in "resistance" that will destroy them. He called for an international force to be deployed to Gaza immediately to protect its residents.