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Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday said that Israel has identified signs of distress coming from Hamas. According to the defense minister, some 70 Hamas fighters have been killed during the last two months, and more than 300 have been killed during the past six months.

"Hamas is very stressed. The most effective action is the siege," Barak said, referring to the Israeli-imposed economic blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel imposed the blockade on Gaza after the Islamist group seized power over the impoverished coastal strip last June. Since then, Israel has allowed only basic staples to be transported through the border crossings it controls, into Gaza.

Addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Barak also praised recent Egyptian efforts to prevent the smuggling of weapons from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, saying a significant improvement has been made, but stressing that still more can be done.

In regard to the Iranian nuclear threat, Barak said that the last thing that will prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability is more talking and harsh words. He added that in his opinion Iran is continuing to pursue nuclear weapons.

"The state of Israel must take action to prevent the nuclear threat from materializing, and there is a lot that can be done," he said.

The defense minister also addressed the security situation in the Gaza Strip, saying that military operations in the Palestinian territory should be undertaken with much self-restraint and should be well thought out in advance. Israel regularly carries out attacks in the Gaza Strip in efforts to curb ongoing Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israeli communities.

"My job as the defense minister, and the Israel Defense Forces' job, is to bring back peace and security to the communities of southern Israel," Barak said. "We will do it, and we won't be deterred from any operation," he added.

In response to the question why the issue of a cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas was not brought before the cabinet for discussion, the defense minister replied that if Israel wants to survive, the cabinet is too wide a forum in which to discuss sensitive Israeli considerations that could easily leak back to Hamas.

Barak also addressed the controversy surrounding Israeli roadblocks in the West Bank, which Israel maintains are a security necessity but Palestinians say substantially disrupt their lives, saying that Israel has already done as much as it possibly can do in the matter. "If a Palestinian day in not 24 hours long, but 23 hours and 20 minutes long because of the [wait at the] roadblocks, that's the price of Israeli citizens' safety."

Finally, Barak said he believed that the recently revived indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria would not yield results by the end of the year. Barak added that he thought it was obvious to all sides that the country that will ultimately have to endorse the negotiations is the United States.