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Senior Israel Defense Forces officers yesterday criticized certain cabinet ministers for beating the drum for military action in the Gaza Strip. The General Staff officers called for weighing more aggressive action against Hamas if the rocket fire into the Negev from the strip continued. However, they do not support reoccupying the territory at this stage. Top IDF brass also expressed concern that some politicians were trying to drag the IDF into the political debate.

Meanwhile, the fighting in Gaza continued yesterday: The IDF killed four Palestinians from the small Hamas-allied group, the Popular Resistance Committee, who were about to launch Qassams, and a Sderot man sustained minor injuries when a Qassam landed near his home. A spokesman for the group, Abu Mujahid, said the tahadiyeh (lull) with Israel was over as a result of the killing of four of its men. He said the organization's response would not not stop at firing Qassams or mortar bombs, hinting at a resumption of suicide attacks against Israelis.

IDF officers expressed surprise at recent news reports stating that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had instructed IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to prepare for an operation in Gaza. "What plans does the prime minister mean?" one officer asked, "the ones we presented to him two weeks ago or the ones he saw a month ago? All of the operational plans regarding Gaza were presented to the cabinet and the security cabinet a long time ago. The ministers are very familiar with them, they're the ones who must decide what to do."

The officers cautioned against "war-mongering" senior officials, claiming they only encouraged Hamas to escalate. Their remarks were targeted specifically at Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon, who said over the weekend that Israel's policy in Gaza was causing serious damage and denounced the "paralysis" imposed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, warning that Israel would pay a heavy price for its restraint in Gaza.

Both Barak and Ashkenazi want to avoid a broad operation in the Strip at this point, although the latter seems willing to support a slightly more aggressive policy if the rockets keep falling. Officials in Barak's bureau yesterday said they believed that Hamas was now trying to curtail the rocket fire, partly due to Egyptian pressure.

A Sderot man sustained mild shrapnel injuries to his arm when a Qassam fell on a home yesterday evening. Four others were treated for shock. When the rocket fell, Motti Turjeman was building a bomb shelter. "I went out for coffee with the workers when suddenly we heard the air raid siren. We ran to the stairwell and heard a huge explosion. The Qassam fell five meters away, near the doghouse. I was sure the dog died and suddenly I saw him, alive, by a miracle, but apparently he became deaf," Turjeman said.