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President Shimon Peres said on Tuesday that "if were are being fired upon we must hit back without hesitation and without compromise," referring to the ongoing Qassam rocket fire launched from the Gaza Strip to Israel.

Peres, who spoke at a conference for National Service volunteers from the kibbutz movement, reiterated that "we don't want to hurt innocent citizens, but we won't let our enemies hurt our citizens."

The president added that, "we cannot be satisfied only with talk. I trust the IDF, and even if complete solutions to the Qassam fire will take time, there is no doubt that the IDF will leave with the superior hand."

Peres harshly criticized Hamas leaders, maintaining that "Hamas leaders in Gaza must know that ultimately those hurt will be those who are breaking the [international] law themselves."

Referring to Tuesday's report that Hamas leaders went underground to escape IDF strikes, Peres said "don't be mistaken, Haniyeh went underground because he knows welll that he committed severe crimes against his people and against citizens, children, and women in Israel. He is not offering anything to Gaza residents except life in a tunnel of terror."

The president maintained that Israel must work to enlist positive public opinion internationally, and recognition of the events in Sdeot as crimes breaking international law. Peres called for solidarity with Sderot residents, and said, "when Osher Twito's leg was amputated, it was as if an entire generation's leg was amputated." He reiterated his support for Sderot residents' calls to reinforce the town and protect it from rocket fire, saying "I declare that Israel is wealthy enough to answer every security requirement and others for the needs of Sderot residents, and it is my intent to continue and pass along this message."

Barak: IDF to act with full force in Gaza in due timeDefense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that the there are currently good reasons to hold off on a full-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, but that it will come in due time.

On a visit to Turkey, Barak added that the government must act with level-headedness and responsibility, and not be subject to occasional whims.

Barak criticized ministers who share their military suggestions with the media. "It's one thing when it's just journalists who are typing up their ideas, but the issue becomes dangerous when those with military experience name specific targets," he said. "These targets will simply disappear."

Hamas said Tuesday that Israel would fail to topple its rule in the Gaza Strip, a day after Barak said one of the goals of Israel's military operations in the Strip is to bring about the Hamas' demise in the Strip.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, told a Hamas Web site that Israel would not succeed in bringing down Hamas.

"These comments ... confirm that the aim of the current aggression on Gaza isn't about security, it is political, and it aims to try destroy Hamas," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in comments posted on the group's Web site. "But it's a failed war, and it will fail."

Laying out the general outline of Israel's plan of action in the Gaza Strip, Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that the first priority is to contain the Qassam rocket threat and the smuggling of arms and explosives from Sinai into the Gaza Strip, and then to destabilize Hamas' hold on the territory, possibly even bringing it down.

Barak, visiting Turkey on Tuesday, said that a full-scale military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip would not take place right away."It won't happen right away. There are reasons why we are not acting with full force right now. It will happen when the time is right," Barak told reporters aboard his flight to Turkey.

On the operational level, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Monday at a conference of senior command officers that "the Israel Defense Forces is prepared and ready to deepen and broaden its activities in the Gaza Strip, in any way necessary, and in line with the [political] decisions that will be made."

This is contrary to information from sources at the Defense Ministry, who said that the army's preparations for an operation in the Strip are not yet complete, suggesting that such readiness will not be achieved for several months.

Much of the conference revolved around the situation in the Gaza Strip and the fighting there. Three senior officers expressed their frustration that the IDF is not providing sufficient security for the residents of Sderot who are under Qassam attacks.

Intelligence data presented at the conference showed that there has been a sharp increase in the amounts of weapons and explosives smuggled into the Strip during recent months.

The army is particularly concerned with the flow of arms through the Rafah crossing when Hamas toppled the wall there three weeks ago.

There are worries that Hamas has succeeded in importing relatively advanced missiles and anti-tank rockets that could make an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip more difficult.