Tue, Feb 12, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Olmert says Israel won't invade Gaza

CALL FOR CALM Hawkish members of the Israeli Cabinet favor a full-scale invasion of northern Gaza and the assassination of Hamas political leaders


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out a large-scale invasion of Gaza, despite demonstrators from a battered town protesting in front of his office after a boy lost a leg in a Palestinian rocket attack.

"Anger is not an operational plan," Olmert told his Cabinet at its regular Sunday session, but Israel's top diplomat warned it will be impossible to reach a peace agreement under these circumstances.

Along with clamoring for a full-scale invasion of northern Gaza to take over the areas where militants have been launching the rockets, there were calls from the Cabinet for assassinating Hamas political leaders and to wipe out a Gaza neighborhood.

The serious injury to eight-year-old Osher Twito in the battered town of Sderot galvanized Israeli outrage.

"He loves playing soccer, but he will never play again," Osher's mother, Iris Twito, wailed on Channel 2 TV. "How can he play now with no leg?"

Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit fumed, "We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map," after warning citizens to flee.

At nightfall on Sunday, about 20 Israeli army vehicles rolled into northern Gaza, where most of the rockets are fired, witnesses said. The military called the operation "routine." In an exchange of gunfire at the border, a Palestinian militant was killed. Later, Israel targeted a rocket squad in an airstrike, the military said. No casualties were reported.

Late on Sunday, Palestinians fired a rocket at Israel, only the second of the day, compared to dozens in the previous days.

In a public statement at the beginning of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting, Olmert said the surge in Palestinian rocket attacks is a response to Israel's own military strikes, claiming that 200 Gaza militants have been killed in recent months "as a result of initiated, aggressive, planned and comprehensive activity" by the Israeli military and security.

As the demonstrators from Sderot approached his office, Olmert declared, "anger is not an operational plan." Instead, he said, "We must act in a systematic and orderly fashion over time."

Olmert indicated that Israel might target Hamas political leaders. "We will continue to reach all the responsible terrorists, including those who dispatch and operate them," he said.

On his way to Germany for talks later on Sunday, Olmert called for patience.

"There is no solution of one operation or one bomb," he said. "It takes time."

Up to now, Israeli military strikes have been aimed at rocket squads and militant leaders. In 2004, however, Israel killed the founder of Hamas and his successor in two airstrikes four weeks apart.

Hamas overran Gaza in June, expelling forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Gaza's Hamas government is headed by Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, deposed by Abbas after the takeover. Abbas named a new government that effectively rules only the West Bank.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel's negotiating team with Abbas' government toward a peace accord, said such an agreement would be impossible as long as Hamas rules Gaza and foments violence.

"There is no hope for any kind of peace or the vision of the Palestinian state which includes the Gaza Strip without real change on the ground," Livni said.

In recent months, Israel has augmented its military strikes with economic sanctions on Gaza, cutting back fuel supplies and sharply restricting the entry of other goods through Gaza crossings it controls. On Thursday, it cut about 1 percent of the electricity it supplies to the territory in an effort to pressure Hamas to stop the rocket barrages.

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