Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Monday that the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip was intended to "change the equation" in the region, whereby Hamas fires at Israel and Israel responds with restraint.
Speaking to reporters alongside her counterparts from the Czech Republic, France and Sweden, Livni defended Israel's incursion into the Hamas-ruled coastal territory as a form of "legitimate self-defense."
The foreign minister, who returned from Paris on Monday following talks with French officials, added that Israel has no choice but to retaliate when attacked.
Meanwhile, Czech FM Karel Schwarzenberg stressed the European Union's stance that a cease-fire must be reached immediately between Israel and Gaza. Schwarzenberg said the EU rejected Israel's approach that a truce could not be reached until the Israel Defense Forces had achieved all of its aims in Gaza.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier Monday defended Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip, saying any nation seeking to survive would have taken the same form of action.
Prior to briefing the political-security cabinet on the situation in Gaza, Barak told Israeli radio station that while Hamas has suffered great losses under Israel's air, sea and ground offensive, many of the military's goals had yet to be achieved.
"Hamas has so far sustained a very heavy blow from us, but we have yet to achieve our objective and therefore the operation continues," Barak said.
"The fundamental objective is to change the reality of security for the south," Barak said, referring to Israeli towns that have come under continuous Palestinian rocket attack from Gaza.
"We are striving for a new reality in which there won't be activity from Gaza against Israeli civilians or our soldiers, a situation which will dramatically change the state of smuggling and in which quiet will prevail in the south," Barak added.
The defense minister also said he was certain that Israel would end its operation in Gaza "with an upper hand." He added that Israel was engaged in diplomatic contacts with international officials regarding the operation.
As part of an eventual halt to the fighting, Israel is seeking help from international and regional partners to increase security along Gaza's border with Egypt to prevent Hamas from rebuilding tunnels and rearming.
"It is clear Hamas cannot be allowed to rearm and we have to find workable solutions to prevent that rearming. And here our international and regional partners have a role to play," said Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
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