Israel threatened on Sunday to target Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip as pressure grew on the government to act after a boy hit by shrapnel in a rocket strike on southern Israel had a leg amputated.
Speaking after huddling with security officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned that no-one from the Islamist movement would be excluded from continuing military strikes against the Hamas-ruled coastal strip.
"We will continue to reach all the terror bodies -- those responsible for them, those who send them and those who operate them. We will not exclude anyone," Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
Cabinet ministers urged the prime minister to order strikes against political as well as military leaders of Hamas.
"Those who are responsible for the terror activity are the heads of Hamas," Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit of Olmert's centrist Kadima party said at the cabinet meeting. "Our duty is to bring them to justice and to bring justice to them."
Over a hundred residents of Sderot, which has borne the brunt of rocket fire, briefly blocked the main highway into Jerusalem to press demands for harsher measures against Gaza militants.
Violence in and around Gaza has escalated over the past week as rockets wounded a handful of people in southern Israel, the eight-year-old amputee being the most serious. Israeli strikes killed at least 20 Gazans over the past week.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel's peace negotiations with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's West Bank-based government, said that ending the rocket fire was paramount for peace efforts.
"Israel's security... is a necessary step to achieve peace and the only way to continue the negotiations on one hand is the need to address this challenge and fight it back," she said.
US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next week to push stalled peace talks, Palestinian officials said on Sunday.
Rice "will visit us within the coming days and she will try to push the negotiations," Ahmed Qorei, the former prime minister heading the Palestinian team in the revived Middle East peace talks, told journalists.
No comment on the planned visit was immediately available from American or Israeli sides.
Olmert has resisted calls for a major offensive in Gaza, from which Israel withdrew settlers and troops in 2005 after a 38-year presence.
In addition to the military strikes, Israel has imposed a series of economic sanctions again Gaza, which it declared a "hostile entity" last September following the Hamas takeover.
On January 17, it imposed a full-scale blockade. Amid international fears of a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished territory where much of the 1.5 million population depends on foreign aid, Israel eased the lockdown on January 22, allowing in limited supplies of fuel, food and medicines.
The following day, militants blew open sections of the border barriers separating Gaza from Egypt and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt to stock up on supplies in the ensuing two weeks.