Livni: Cease-fire in Gaza would grant Hamas legitimacy
In Paris, Livni says humanitarian truce is not required because there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, on a visit to Paris on Thursday, reiterated her government's rejection of a French-proposed cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.
Livni told her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner that Hamas must must not be given the opportunity to gain any sort of legitimacy within a renewal of a truce. Under the current offensive, she said, Hamas understand that Israels will not tolerate Gaza rocket fire without response.
The foreign minister also voiced concern that Hamas would exploit the cease-fire to restock its weapons arsenal, according to Army Radio.
Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip has damaged Hamas and will not end until Israel no longer deems the Palestinian Islamist faction a threat, Livni told reporters in Paris.
"I think that even now, after a few days of operation we have achieved changes," she said.
"We affected most of the infrastructure of terror within the Gaza Strip and the question whether it's enough will be according to an assessment on a daily basis."
Livni, who met French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said Israel intended to "change the reality" in and around Gaza. Israeli officials say this would entail ending Palestinian rocket salvoes that have sown panic in neighboring southern Israel.
"We want to weaken Hamas in the Gaza Strip. At the end of the day, Hamas is a problem not only to Israel but to the entire Palestinian people," Livni said.
"They are a problem to all the Arab states who understand that they have their own radical elements back home, including Muslim brotherhoods in different places."
Hamas has remained defiant despite an Israeli barrage that has killed more than 400 Palestinians. Four Israelis have been killed by retaliatory rocket strikes.
Reiterating Israel's rejection of the 48-hour humanitarian cease-fire proposal, Livni said "there is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce."
In her remarks to reporters, Livni said Israel had been careful to protect the civilian population and had kept the humanitarian situation in Gaza "completely as it should be".
"The crossings are open, more than it used to be before the military operation," she said.
On Wednesday, Israel rejected the proposal for a 48-hour humanitarian truce as unreasonable. "We did not go into the Gaza operation only to end it while rocket fire continues," Olmert told cabinet ministers during a special session.
The government, meanwhile, allowed more than 90 truckloads with food and medicine would be permitted into the territory on Thursday and a similar number on Wednesday.
The Israel Defense Forces recommends a diplomatic exit plan be prepared while a cease-fire agreement is formulated.
Defense officials tend to favor a clear agreement with Hamas, even if it is not enshrined in a written document.
Livni, however, reportedly believes that it might be better to aim for a situation in which there is no clearly set-out agreement, but Israel would make clear beforehand that it would respond forcefully to any firing from Gaza after hostilities ended.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, for his part, has conditioned any future truce between Israel and Hamas on the establishment of an international mechanism to monitor the cease-fire.
During an appearance on Thursday in rocket-besieged Be'er Sheva, Olmert said that Israel is not seeking an extended military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
"It became clear that it is impossible to live under these circumstances," the premier, who also met with municipal and council heads of southern communities, said. "We could not come to terms with the situation in which hundreds of thousands of people go to sleep and wake up in fear, uncertainty, and discomfort. We will act so that there will be quiet in the communities of the south."
"We did not declare war against the residents of Gaza, but against Hamas we will act with an iron fist," Olmert said. "Hamas is making things difficult for us, but more so for its people."
The prime minister said he is hopeful the goals of the operation will be attained quickly. "We have no interest in waging a prolonged war," he said. "What we want is that our children will grow up in security and that they will not need to run away from the shrieking whistles of rockets."
"We also are not eager to wage a war on a wide front," Olmert said. "We want quiet and that the way of life in the south will change so that the children will not live in fear."
The premier also addressed concerns that the Gaza operation was beginning to resemble the Second Lebanon War. "In contrast to the war in Lebanon, there is no sense of collapse or a lack of capability, but rather there is a sense that the home front is being cared for quickly."
The premier also refuted claims of a rift between him and his two key cabinet ministers, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. "What was said and written in the newspapers is not what we know," Olmert said. "There is a government that is functioning with full cooperation. I won't allow election season politics into the rooms where decisions are made."
Olmert is interested in the establishment of an international supervision and enforcement mechanism for any cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Olmert has made that a precondition of any deal and emphasized it in talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other world leades.
"Israel cannot agree that the only party responsible for implementing and regulating the cease-fire be Hamas," a senior Israeli diplomatic source said on Wednesday.
According to the source, lack of an external supervisory body was the central reason for the collapse of the calm earlier this month.
"The situation in which Hamas didn't have to account for implementing the cease-fire did not prove viable," the source said.
Olmert clarified in Wednesday's cabinet meeting that Israel will not end the Gaza operation until it achieves its goals. The cabinet did not debate any cease-fire proposals and resolved to continue the operation already approved.
"We did not go into the Gaza operation only to end it while rocket fire continues," Olmert said.
According to Olmert, a decision now to opt for a cease-fire would carry a heavy price.
"Let's say we unilaterally stopped and a few days from now a barrage fell on Ashkelon," he said. "Do you understand the consequences in Israel and the region? For Israeli deterrence, for Israeli measures."