Israel to start ground operation in Gaza

The Security Cabinet's decision, stepping up a ground offensive in Gaza, indicated Israel could be prepared to partially reoccupy Gaza less than a year after withdrawing all troops and settlements from the area.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened the urgent meeting after Hamas militants fired a rocket into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon late Tuesday. Although the attack caused no injuries, it was the first time a rocket has flown so far into Israel, signaling that militants have improved the range of the primitive weapons and escalating a crisis over a captured soldier.

After the Security Cabinet meeting, Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with top military officials to decide which parts of a broad invasion should be immediately implemented, including the possibility of the buffer zone.

Olmert's office denied the Cabinet had approved the formation of such a zone. But meeting participants said the ministers had all agreed that a standing plan by the army to create a buffer zone could be an effective way of preventing rocket fire, the AP reports.

It was not clear when or if the security zone would be established.