Livni: Israel Should Strike Hamas Again to Halt Arms Smuggling

Livni tells Ch. 1 she is committed to dismantling settlements and working with U.S. on two-state solution.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that Israel had achieved most of the goals of its offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, but added that she would support striking the Islamist group again to halt its ongoing smuggling of weapons.

"We embarked on the operation in order to bring quiet [to the south] - now there is quiet, and [also] to stop the firing of rockets - now the firing has stopped," she said in an interview with Channel 1.

"As far as I am concerned, we could hit Hamas with another military blow. The smuggling of weapons into Gaza is the same as firing [rockets] onto Israel, and the world sees that as well," Livni added.

Livni told Channel 1 that she had fully supported Israel's decision to embark on the 3-week offensive on Gaza in order to cease the firing of rockets onto Israel.

"The operation in Gaza was very important to me," Livni said. "I supported it and I convinced [others] to go through with it. I also thought that after the air operation it was necessary to continue with the ground operation."

"Even of I hold political negotiations with moderate elements, that does not mean I am prepared to surrender to extremist elements," she said. "I refused to hold negotiations with Hamas to end the offensive with some sort of paper and I managed to convince others of my stance."

The foreign minister also told interviewers that Israel and the United States shared "common interests and values" and would work together toward creating a viable two-state solution with the Palestinians.

"Israel and the U.S. have common interests and values. Obama's administration is not a threat to Israel," she said.

The Kadima chairwoman said that she would make a priority if elected to dismantle West Bank settlements in order to reach an agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

Livni also reiterated Israel's stance that the reopening of Gaza borders must be directly tied to a deal for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted by Palestinian militants in a 2006 cross-border raid.

"As I see it, the matter of opening [Gaza] crossings is directly tied to the released of Gilad Shalit, and we will convince the new American government of this as well," she said.

"[U.S. President Barack] Obama also does not want to give legitimacy to terror," Livni said. "The crossing swill be opened only under the legitimate Palestinian Authority and not under Hamas."

A senior Hamas official was quoted by a pan-Arab newspaper last week as saying Islamist group is rejecting any linkage between the release of Shalit and the opening of Gaza border crossings, according to a report in the London-based pan-Arab daily newspaper Al-Hayat.

Hamas official told the newspaper, Al-Hayat, that Israel "offered to lift the siege in exchange for the release of Shalit but we refused. There is no connection between the issues."

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told cabinet ministers during their weekly meeting that he had seen a new atmosphere in the Negev during his vist there this week, following the culmination of Israel's offensive on Gaza.

"I toured Sderot and I discovered a new place and a different atmosphere," he said. "I am full of hope that the atmosphere and the blessed quiet that characterized Sderot last Thursday, and which were apparent on the faces of young and old alike, will characterize the residents of the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and the cities that were in rocket and missile range over the past month."

"Israel embarked on Operation Cast Lead not as a first option but as a last resort, after we tried all other ways and options to bring quiet to the communities in the south," he added.

Olmert also lamented the civilian casualties that amounted from the war, blaming Hamas for intentionally using innocent people as human shields against attacks.

"This has been the policy of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations over the years - to fight to the last drop of Gaza civilians' blood and strike at them," he said.