JERUSALEM - A top architect of Israeli military policy in the Gaza Strip said in comments published yesterday that the army will have to conduct a lengthy ground operation in the Palestinian territory to halt continuing rocket fire, the clearest sign yet that Israel is preparing an offensive against the Hamas militant group.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly said their patience is wearing thin with the near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last month that Israel was moving closer to a large-scale military operation in Gaza.
In an interview with the Yediot Ahronot daily, Major General Moshe Kaplinsky said a Gaza operation appears inevitable.
"In order to dismantle the terror infrastructure, systematic treatment is necessary. A ground operation is a question of timing," he said.
Israel has been reluctant to send troops into Gaza, fearing it will result in heavy casualties.
Military officials said an incursion would probably not come before a US-sponsored Mideast peace conference next month.