Barak vows to expand IDF operations against Qassam fire
PM: Israel will continue to wage war on rocket crews; Hamas: End raids or Shalit will end up like Ron Arad.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited the western Negev Thursday, vowing to use the Israel Defense Forces to bring a complete end to incessant Qassam rocket fire that has plagued the area.
Barak's statements came in response to the continuing barrage of rockets that have fallen on the western Negev since Tuesday.
The defense minister also instructed the IDF to continue preparations for a major military operation in the Gaza Strip. Barak ordered Gaza crossings closed due to the fighting, Israel Radio reported.
Barak visited the area to assess the situation on the ground on both sides of the Gaza security fence. During his visit, he promised that "the IDF will carry out continued, decisive actions with the goal of battering the Qassam crews until they can no longer target Israel. It won't be simple and it won't happen by the end of the week, but we will bring an end to the assault on Sderot."
During his visit, Barak observed areas in the Gaza Strip where Qassam launching crews operate, and said that even though the situation of civilians in Gaza is difficult, "ours is not easy."
In regard to the killing of Carlos Chavez, a Kibbutz volunteer from Ecuador shot by a Hamas sniper while working in the fields of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, Barak said that "we have worked these fields for decades, and we will use the means at our disposal to ensure that we can continue to so safely."
Olmert: The IDF will not let upThe IDF will not let up its war against the Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip assaulting southern Israel with rocket fire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Thursday.
Speaking at a business conference in Tel Aviv minutes after an Israel Air Force raid on a car in Gaza killed a militant leader and his wife, Olmert said "A war is going on in the south, every day, every night.
"The most daring and boldest of our soldiers and members of the security services are taking part in it. This war will not stop. The moment will come when the scales will tip in this war and cause the firing in the south to be different from what it is today."
"We will continue to fight the [Islamic] Jihad, Hamas and all their allies without compromise, without concessions and without mercy," the prime minister said.
He also told conference participants that Israel does not want to kill any resident of the Gaza Strip but refuses to suffer any longer from the barrage of rocket attacks.
"We have no special desire to kill any one of Gaza's residents, but we cannot and will not tolerate this unceasing fire at Israeli citizens ... so we will continue to operate, with wisdom and daring, with the maximum precision that will enable us to hit those who want to attack us."
Erekat: Talks with Israel impossible while raids continueEarlier Thursday, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said negotiations with Israel are impossible as long as the IDF continues its raids on Gaza.
Erekat's comments came after two days of heavy violence between Israel and Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip.
Israel Air Force attacks have killed at least 25 Palestinians since Tuesday and militants in Gaza have fired more than 70 rockets at the western Negev, including at least 15 on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Thursday from Moscow, where she arrived Wednesday for talks with Russian officials, that the IDF would continue its offensive in response to the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza.
"Israel is obligated to give its citizens a response to the daily attacks coming from the Gaza Strip," she said.
"The answer is unbridled war on terror. When we speak of a Palestinian state that includes both Gaza and the West Bank, it must be clear that the situation in Gaza needs to change."
In Jordan on Thursday, parliament's lower house denounced the continuous IDF attacks on the Palestinian territories, the official Petra news agency reported.
A senior Hamas official warned on Wednesday that the ongoing Israel Defense Forces raids on the Gaza Strip could turn negotiations over the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit into "a Ron Arad affair."
The warning was in reference to the Israel Air Force navigator who has been missing in action since his plane went down over Lebanon in 1986.
In an interview aired on Channel 1, Hamas official Ismail El-Muzeini, who is overseeing the Shalit matter for the group, said that if the raids continued, Hamas would cut off all contacts with Israel over the release of Shalit, who the group has been holding captive since 2006.
Earlier Wednesday, Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Meshal that IDF raids on Gaza would hurt chances of the Palestinian militant group releasing Shalit.
Meshal told reporters that recent IDF operations in the coastal strip also made Hamas less likely to negotiate any truce with Israel.
Speaking to Israeli leaders, Meshal said: "What you are doing will deny you of any plan you could be betting on: No exchange for Gilad Shalit and no truce."