The plan to launch massive air strikes on Gaza that by Sunday had killed at least 282 Palestinians and injured hundreds of others, was presented to Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak, for his final approval on November 19, according to a report in Haaretz. On Dec 18, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the defence minister met to approve the operation. On Wednesday, during a five-hour discussion, Israeli ministers were given a detailed briefing on the operation. "Everyone fully understood what sort of period we were heading into and what sort of scenarios this could lead to. No one could say that he or she did not know what they were voting on," one minister told Haaretz. The plan received unanimous approval and the Israeli prime minister, defence minister and foreign minister were left to decide on the exact time the attack would be launched. On Thursday, the foreign minister Tzipi Livni went to Cairo to inform the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, that Israel had decided to attack Hamas. "In parallel, Israel continued to send out disinformation in announcing it would open the crossings to the Gaza Strip and that Olmert would decide whether to launch the strike following three more deliberations on Sunday - one day after the actual order to launch the operation was issued. "'Hamas evacuated all its headquarter personnel after the cabinet meeting on Wednesday,' one defense official said, 'but the organisation sent its people back in when they heard that everything was put on hold until Sunday.' "The final decision was made on Friday morning, when Barak met with Chief of Staff Gen Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Shin Bet Security Service Yuval Diskin and the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Amos Yadlin. Barak sat down with Olmert and Livni several hours later for a final meeting, in which the trio gave the air force its orders." Ynetnews reported: "Earlier in the week, many Hamas operative went underground, fearing an Israeli assault, but despite the precautions taken by Hamas, many of its police stations across the Strip were operating as usual, again - believing an Israeli attack will not begin over the weekend. "Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhum told the media that the organisation learned on Friday that Israel was not going to launch any military operation in Gaza. Egypt had recommended Hamas cease all rocket fire immediately, in order to allow Israel to postpone its planned offensive in the Strip. "According to a Hamas source, the organisation believed an Israeli offensive would mimic past ones and target Hamas training and other minor facilities, and not offices meant to provide services to the general population. "Among the offices hit were the Gaza passport bureau and the Preventive Security Headquarters... "Earlier Saturday, Hamas interior minister confirmed that all Hamas infrastructure in the Strip was hit during the string of IAF strikes. The Palestinians further reported that one of the strikes was aimed at a Hamas cadet course readying for its graduation ceremony. According to the Palestinian police spokesman in Gaza, many of the cadets were killed, including Tawfiq Jabar, commander of the Gaza Police." In response to the attacks, Khaled Meshaal, the Damascus-based political leader of Hamas, has called for a new intifada against Israel. In an interview with Al Jazeera, he said: "We called for a military intifada against the enemy. Resistance will continue through suicide missions." He said Hamas had accepted "all the peaceful options, but without results." He said that before any talks with the people of Gaza could begin, "the blockade must be lifted and the crossings (from Israel) opened ... notably that in Rafah," which leads to Egypt. The Hamas leader said he was open to reconciliation with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, but demanded that Mr Abbas ends his negotiations with Israel. "Neither rockets nor suicide operations are absurd, but negotiations are," Mr Meshaal said. At a press conference in Gaza, the Hamas spokesman, Taher al Noono, said: "We call the Arab states, to adopt a decisive position in the face of this ferocious Zionist massacre, and our people cannot accept the mere statement of condemnation while today we are offering our blood and dead bodies. We reiterate that the regional partners should live up to their responsibility towards the incidents taking place in Gaza and certain regional parties cannot be relieved from the responsibility of the bloodshed of today." Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London, told Al Jazeera: "If you remember what Tzipi Livni said in Egypt after her meeting with President Hosni Mubarak and the foreign minister, she made a clear warning, not just about a tit-for-tat attitude, but about a change in Gaza. "That's why I suspect that the operation is not only intended to be limited, but aimed at toppling the regime in Gaza altogether, otherwise why would Israel target the police force? "They are not the ones firing missiles in Israel - the police force keeps the order in Gaza. This is an operation that will create disorder and I suspect that Egypt and Ramallah are colluding in this." Hamas' representative in Beirut, Osama Hamden, told Al Jazeera: "The peace process has completely failed, so we have to talk about a new process in the region which is supposed to start from the restoring of Palestinian rights and the commitment towards those rights. "No one will accept now any talk about a peace process, because everyone knows that the Palestinian people are fed up with 17 years of negotiation without any result." Peter Beaumont, foreign affairs editor for The Guardian, wrote that the loss of liberty for the residents of Gaza, has been a gradual process. "Once it was possible for Gazans to pass with relative ease in and out of the Strip to work in Israel. In recent years, the noose around the 1.5 million people living there has been tightening incrementally, until a whole population - in the most densely settled urban area upon the planet - has been locked in behind walls and fences. "Since Israeli troops overran the Strip in 1967, Israeli politicians and generals have always seen it as a problem - a hotbed of radicalism and opposition. And so Israel has ventured failed experiment after experiment in the attempt to control Gaza. It has tried everything except the obvious - to allow its people to be free. "It has tried directly managing Gaza, and a brutal policy of quarantine backed by tanks, jets and gunboats. It has attempted the maintenance of strategic settlements, which only provided a focus for resistance against the patrolling troops. And when that failed, Israel retreated - only to find that, without a proximate enemy, those living inside turned to attacking the nearby towns with crude missiles. "Ironically, one of Israel's experiments involved assisting in the creation of Hamas, which had its roots in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, to counter the power of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation. Israel has been determined to push Hamas ever closer to all-out war since insisting that even though it won free and fair Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, its right to govern could not be treated as legitimate."
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