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Khaled Meshal, head of the Hamas political office, supports Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's call for a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians, Meshal-affiliated Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip say.

Speaking with Haaretz, the Hamas sources said that Meshal supported a broad-based deal that would include the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, abducted in a Hamas raid against an Israel Defense Forces outpost two weeks ago, and the release of Palestinian prisoners. In addition, the deal would include an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and an end to targeted killings, in return for a long-term cease-fire on the part of the Palestinians that would include an end to the Qassam rockets.

The Hamas sources complained that, at this time, there is no one on the Israeli side willing to hear their proposals. They maintain that clear messages have been sent to the Israeli side through mediators but all their offers have been turned down.

One Hamas leader, Salah al-Bardawil, was unwilling to say whether Haniyeh's call for a mutual cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians had been made with Meshal's blessing, but told Haaretz that it was impossible to decide on such a declaration without agreement by the organization's leadership.

However, other senior Hamas members said that Hamas in its entirety now supports a hudna, a long-term cease-fire, and feels that there is a good opportunity for a collective deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Khaled Meshal is expected to hold a press conference today in which he will present his official stance regarding the fighting in the Gaza Strip and the case of the abducted Israeli soldier.

Broadening scope of raids

In the meantime, the Israel Defense Forces will intensify and broaden the scope of its raids into the Gaza Strip in the coming days, senior IDF sources told Haaretz yesterday. The same sources said that Operation Summer Rains was likely to last two months, and during the cabinet meeting yesterday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that this was a "war in which it is impossible to set time limits."

The intensity of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip lessened noticeably yesterday, but security sources stressed that this had nothing to do with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's call on Saturday for a cease-fire. The same sources warned that the operations would intensify in the coming days, following Israel's demand that the abducted corporal, Gilad Shalit, be released immediately.

Also yesterday, one Palestinian civilian was reported killed in an Air Force attack.

The IDF is currently concentrating its operations in two main areas in the Gaza Strip. The larger of the two is taking place in the area between the Karni crossing and the environs of the Sajayiyeh and Zeitun neighborhoods, east of Gaza City. Givati Brigade troops, backed by armored units, are searching for tunnels. The other operation, also involving Givati troops is taking place in the area of Dahaniye airport, south of Rafah.

A senior IDF source told Haaretz yesterday that the operation near Karni was aiming to locate tunnels, following intelligence information about their existence. Late last week a tunnel was uncovered near Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

The same source said that the Golani Brigade troops that had participated in that operation, which ended on Saturday, would be redeployed in other raids in the coming days. The plan is to intensify operations by the middle of the week, in the hope that raids will replace long-term presence inside the Gaza Strip.

At the Southern Command preparations are underway for the possibility that the offensive operations will continue for about two months. The IDF assessment is that military pressure is causing sufficient concern among the Palestinian leadership, as evidenced by Haniyeh's call for a cease-fire.

No change in Qassam strikes

However, so far there has been no significant change in the rate of Qassam rocket attacks, and an Israeli civilian suffered moderate injuries in Sderot from shrapnel after a rocket struck the town yesterday. The incident occured when a minor traffic accident at an intersection in the southern part of Sderot caused two drivers to emerge from their vehicles. At that point a rocket landed and injured one man who was evacuated to Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon.

Earlier in the day, a Qassam slammed into the home of Shlomo and Jaqueline Ohayun causing significant damage to the house but only minor injuries to two children.

A total of four rockets hit Sderot yesterday and its mayor, Eli Moyal, informed the Prime Minister's Office that he was boycotting a scheduled meeting to protest what he considered to be a failure by the government to deal with the Qassam threat.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Moyal asked that Sderot be declared a front-line town, whose status merits state-funded benefits.

However, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected calls for tougher measures against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in yesterday's cabinet meeting, saying that any extreme action would endanger the international good will that Israel currently enjoys.

Olmert had come under attack by a number of ministers who demanded that the military step up its operation in the Gaza Strip.

Olmert: We must be patient

"We can carry out missions like James bond and lose the support we have in the international community. In order to preserve this support we must act with patience and cool heads," Olmert said.

The Prime Minister was also critical of ministers who have appeared in interviews in recent days, saying that unless they coordinated their statements they undermined the government's position and created confusion.

Although Olmert avoided naming specific ministers, it was understood that he referred to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter who was quoted late last week as supporting the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

Dichter denied having made the statements attributed to him.

Olmert reiterated that Israel "will not negotiate with Hamas. We will not negotiate with terrorists. Such negotiations will encourage the next kidnapping. This is a war in which we cannot set a time limit. We have no intention to occupy the Gaza Strip and we have no intention to stay there. The military operation will last for some time and it will not follow a single pattern."

In another Qassam related development, the IDF decided to alter the call-sign for the early warning system in place in the western Negev, and it will no longer be known as Red Dawn, but Red Color. The change came about following complaints by many Sderot residents whose children are called Dawn (Shachar in Hebrew), who argued that the call-sign hurt their feelings.

At approximately 4:30 PM yesterday, an Israel Air Force aircraft fired a rocket at a vehicle carrying Hamas militants, but missed its target after the passengers fled the car. Another missile fired at the same target struck the entrance of a grocery story and killed Bilal Riba'a, 18, and injured five other Palestinians.

This appears to have been the second time in 24 hours that an Air Force attack missed its mark and struck Palestinian civilians. A missile is believed to have struck the yard of a house in the eastern quarter of the Sajayiyeh neighborhood on Saturday evening, killing a mother and two children. The IDF confirmed that it had fired but said that it had targetted a group of Palestinians firing anti-tank rockets against Israel troops.

Also yesterday, the IDF confirmed that the death of First Sergeant Yehuda Bassel of the Golani Brigade was caused by friendly fire. The conclusions were released following a preliminary investigation by the commander of the Golani Brigade, Colonel Tamir Yadai into the death of Bassel, the only IDF casualty of Operation Summer Rains.