Livni: As prime minister, I will topple Hamas regime in Gaza
Gaza violence dominates cabinet meeting; Olmert: We are not eager for battle, but won't shy away from it.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni vowed on Sunday to end Hamas's rule in the Gaza Strip if she is elected prime minister in a February election.
"The state of Israel, and a government under me, will make it a strategic objective to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza," Livni told members of her centrist Kadima party. "The means for doing this should be military, economic and diplomatic."
The barrage of Qassam rocket fire by Gaza militants and what Israel's response should be dominated the discussion at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during the opening of the meeting that the government had agreed to the cease-fire with Hamas last June with little doubt or hesitation.
"Israel has always hoped for and wanted quiet for the residents of the south and that they should enjoy genuine calm and be free of the threat of unceasing Qassam and mortar attacks that have disrupted life in the south for a very long period," Olmert said.
During the meeting, politicians from across the political spectrum pointed fingers at and criticized one another over the deteriorating situation along Israel's border with the coastal territory.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon also on Sunday said that there is no need for a wider operation in Gaza, but that Hamas must be removed from power.
Ramon, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and others harshly criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak's handling of the situation.
"I suggest that the person sitting on the 14th floor of the Defense Ministry wake up from the illusion that the cease-fire is good for Israel," Mofaz told Army Radio. "It is time to act. What are we waiting for? What else needs to happen? Are we waiting for children to die, for people to be injured?"
Mofaz continued by saying that the fact that Gilad Shalit is still being held captive by Hamas is the heavy price Israel has already paid for the truce, which was brokered by Egypt.
Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called for calm at the meeting. "I won`t compete with hysterical voices [over Israel`s action in Gaza]," said Olmert. He added that he, Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have discussed the situation in depth.
"A responsible government is neither eager for battle, nor does it shy away from it," said Olmert. "We will take the necessary measures with the necessary responsibility. I will not go into detail about the steps; neither will I raise the volume, since this has no bearing on reality, but only on the atmosphere that cannot be a basis for the conduct of government policy, especially during this sensitive and important time."
During the meeting on Sunday, Barak asked Olmert to call for quiet.
"We are listening to and feel the pain of those living in southern Israel," Barak said, "but some of the impassioned voices are harmful, unnecessary and hurt our endurance."
Barak continued by saying that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable, and that he has requested army and defense ministry officials to prepare plans for how to respond to the escalating violence.
Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said on Sunday that the cease-fire was a means to an end, and if the end goal is unattainable through a truce then other means must be considered.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister and head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Eli Yishai, accused Barak of not doing enough to stem the violence.
"If the Qassams were aimed at central Israel, the defense ministry would have already acted to end the truce," he said. Yishai added that Barak should move his office to Sderot, and said that would cause him to act differently.