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Israel is close to achieving its aims in the Gaza Strip,
Israel is close to achieving its aims in the Gaza Strip, but will continue its military operations until its southern regions are safe from rocket attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday.

Its main aims in the conflict are to stop homemade rockets and mortars from being fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza into Israel's southern territories, and halt the smuggling of weaponry into the enclave, according to Olmert.

Israel carried out more than 60 airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on Saturday night, killing at least five and injuring at least six Palestinians. There were also reports that Israeli troops were stepping up ground operations in Gaza, moving deeper into heavily populated areas.

"Israel is approaching the targets it has set for itself, but more patience, determination and courage are needed for us to achieve those goals in a way that will change the security reality in the south, and for our citizens to feel long-term security and stability," Olmert said during a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Olmert also dismissed international calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying, "No country in the world, including those that preach morals to us, would have shown the restraint as we have."

Regarding the Security Council's Resolution 1860, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, Olmert said, "We have never allowed anyone to decide for us whether we are allowed to strike those that hurl bombs at our kindergartens and schools and we never will agree to that in the future."

"No resolution that was made or will be made in the future will deprive us of our basic right to defend the residents of Israel," he said.

A representative for Gaza's health ministry told journalists that 854 Palestinians had so far died in Israel's two-week long attack on the enclave of 1.5 million people. A total of 270 of the dead are children, 68 of them women, and 90 elderly people, he added.

He also said that around 4,000 people had been wounded, including some 400 children who are in serious condition.

The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using white phosphorous in its attacks on Gaza. Israel has denied the claim.

Israel's casualties are estimated at 13 people, including 10 servicemen.

Gaza has been controlled by the radical Islamic Hamas movement since the summer of 2007.

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