Barak, Livni and Lieberman Address a Raucous Knesset

The leaders of Kadima, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu attended a raucous Knesset plenum meeting yesterday as the Israel Defense Forces Operation Cast Lead continued in Gaza.

Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak addressed the Knesset, saying the operation in Gaza will "be expanded and extended as much as necessary."

Barak defined the operations goals as "dealing a severe blow to Hamas and changing the situation in the south."

During his speech, Barak recalled the visit by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama to the Qassam-stricken town of Sderot before he was elected. The defense minister quoted Obama as saying "I would do anything to stop [a gunner]" to which he said he replied: "That's exactly what we're doing."

Barak told Knesset members: "We've implemented the conclusions from what happened on the home front during the Second Lebanon War. The embarrassing scenes of tent cities set up by philanthropists shall not return and the state will not cast off its responsibilities. Those in need of a respite or who want to send their children away from the fighting will be able to do so in an orderly fashion."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declined to address the Knesset because of Speaker Dalia Itzik's refusal to defer the debate.

"I thought it was impossible that this debate be held at press conferences and on other stages and that the Knesset should ignore it," Itzik said.

During her speech, Kadima leader and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni placed the onus for the escalation in violence on Hamas.

"Anyone who gave support or shelter to Hamas is now paying the price," Livni said. "Anyone who has any complaints about the situation over the [Palestinian] population's condition should address them to Hamas, which is holding them hostage."

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Removing the rocket threat to Israel will require the toppling of Hamas."

Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman accused Israeli Arab lawmakers of being a "fifth column" and said they should be "exiled" for "carrying out acts of treason at a time of war and betraying those sitting here in the Knesset."

Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) responded to the hawkish politician by calling him a "fascist" and telling him to "go back from where you came from."

Also, MK Talab al-Sana was removed from the plenum by Itzik after repeatedly interrupting Lieberman's speech.

MK Jamal Zahalka of the Arab nationalist Balad party boycotted the meeting, saying he was not willing to take part in a "celebration of death."