Israel to Establish 'Humanitarian Corridor' for the Gaza Strip

PM tells Haaretz the sooner we can end Gaza op, the better; Peres: Europe wouldn't tolerate rocket fire.

Israel will set up a "humanitarian corridor" to counter a crisis caused by its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said on Wednesday.

The PM's office said the measure was proposed by Israel Defense Forces leaders and would entail granting periodic access to various areas of the strips to allow Palestinians to stock up on vital goods.

Olmert told Haaretz on Tuesday that Israel has no interest in a prolonged offensive on the Gaza Strip.

"The sooner, the better," he said when asked when the army planned to end its operation. "We did not set out to occupy Gaza or kill every terrorist. We set out to bring change to the south."

Olmert on Tuesday visited a number of southern towns recently battered by rockets, and met with residents, municipal leaders, and wounded Israel Defense Forces soldiers hospitalized at Soroka in Be'er Sheva.

The prime minister told Haaretz that he was in contact with numerous world leaders working toward a diplomatic solution for the crisis between Israel and Gaza.

"There are different ideas for a diplomatic solution," he said. "I am currently in discussions regarding them with many leaders around the world."

"The result must me an effective blockading of the Philadelphi Route, with supervision and follow-ups," the prime minister added, referring to the area between Gaza and Egypt where militants have been digging tunnels for smuggling weapons and guerillas.

The prime minister also said that Israel did not oppose the United Nations' efforts to find a solution to the crisis, but stressed that "we need an active solution, and that's what we are working toward."

Regarding the situation of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Gaza militants since June 2006, Olmert said: "We are in contact with the Shalit family. I have not spoken to them about it personally in the last few days, but the matter is being dealt with.

On a visit to the Osem factory in Sderot, Olmert emphasized that Israel did not want to reoccupy Gaza. "Hamas has received an unprecedented blow to its strength."

"There is no state that would absorb [so many rockets] and continue to bite its lip and restrain itself," he added. "All those chiding us around the world today would have responded with even more strength and cruelty were they in our place."

Earlier Tuesday,Olmert rejected the European Union's request for a 48-hour "humanitarian" cease-fire with Hamas.

The prime minister told the group of visiting European foreign ministers that Israel was "tired of gestures," as the Israel Defense Forces continued its ground offensive deep into the Gaza Strip.

"We honored the cease-fire despite being fired at on a daily basis," Olmert said. "Now is the time for action. We are ready for a cease-fire only in exchange for actions, not empty words."

Meanwhile, President Shimon Peres told senior European Union politicians during their talks Tuesday that their nations should support Israel in its offensive in Gaza to halt rocket attacks by Hamas militants.

"Europe needs to open its eyes with respect to the fighting in Gaza," the president said. He made the comments in a meeting with Czech Foreign Minister Karl Schwarzenberg, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, and Benita Ferraro-Waldner, the European Union Commissioner for External Relations.

"None of the European countries would tolerate rocket fire on their citizens, and they must understand that Hamas is a terror organization of the worst order that uses its population of women and children as human shields," Peres added.