ISRAEL's new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.
The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings.
Barak, who is expected to become defence minister tomorrow, has already demanded detailed plans to deploy two armoured divisions and an infantry division, accompanied by assault drones and F-16 jets, against Hamas.
The Israeli forces would expect to be confronted by about 12,000 Hamas fighters with arms confiscated from the Fatah faction that they defeated in last week's three-day civil war in Gaza.
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Details of the plan emerged as Fatah forces in the West Bank stormed Hamas-run buildings, including the parliament in Ramallah, where they tried to seize the deputy speaker.
Israeli officials believe their forces would face even tougher resistance in Gaza than they encountered during last summer's war against Hezbollah in south Lebanon.
A source close to Barak said that Israel could not tolerate an aggressive "Hamastan" on its border and an attack seemed unavoidable.
"The question is not if but how and when," he said.
© Copyright 2007 Times Newspapers Ltd