Military Supports PM Over Response to New PA Coalition

Government and military officials are to hold consultations in the coming days about the formation of the Palestinian Authority's national unity government, though security sources told Haaretz that Israel's policy was already set by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday when he said the boycott of the PA will continue even after Fatah ministers join the cabinet.

The officials will also discuss the visit to the region of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which begins Saturday.

The sources said yesterday that senior officials of the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security services were in complete agreement with Olmert on the response to recent developments and wanted to keep the boycott in place as long as Hamas was leading the government. In contrast, opinions in the army vary over whether to conduct offensive operations in the Gaza Strip in the coming months to move Qassam rockets out of range and deal with weapons smuggling.

Since the beginning of the year, the IDF has been training units ahead of a possible escalation that would require a large-scale offensive in the Strip.

The sources said Israel would find it difficult to counter eroding international support for the PA boycott. The position of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is unclear on the matter, and therefore Israel attaches great importance to a visit he is expected to make to the region in the near future.

The U.S. is maintaining a relatively hard line against the PA for the time being. Congress recently imposed limitations on the transfer by the administration of $86 million to PA security organizations loyal to Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Meanwhile, a suicide attack was foiled yesterday north of Nablus, when soldiers stopped two young Palestinian men carrying bags containing seven kilograms of explosives and a gas canister. The two were taken into custody.

Two Qassam rockets landed yesterday in Israel, causing no injuries or damage. One landed south of Ashkelon near the industrial zone and the other in the western Negev. The IDF said there had been additional launches but none of the other rockets landed in Israel.

Shalit's captors refuse to deliver glasses

The captors of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit have refused to pass on to him a pair of reading glasses his family delivered to the Red Cross some time ago, Channel 2 news said yesterday. The report said Shalit's captors feared the glasses would lead rescuers to the soldier. A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees said they are treating Shalit humanely as Islamic law requires. Shalit's father reiterated his call to Hamas political head Khaled Meshal to release his son. "If he [Meshal] really wants to turn over a new leaf, he will release Gilad," Shalit said.

Munir Monsour, chairman of the Association for the Prisoner, told Haaretz yesterday that according to information he had received, the deal to release Shalit would include five security prisoners who are Israeli citizens. He said lifer Sami Yunis, the oldest security prisoner, would also be released.

Crop dusters barred from Gaza border

Israeli Crop-dusting planes will not be allowed to fly near the Gaza Strip border for fear they may be shot down with shoulder-mounted missiles. The Agriculture Ministry recently instructed farmers around the Gaza Strip not to allow planes to fly in the area of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council.

Previously when such a directive was issued, is was always rescinded at the last moment. Farmers in this area will now have to sp ray potatoes and other crops by hand or tractor. The farmers say various pests have appeared in the fields following the last rains, which are causing major damage, and stopping crop dusting from the air will cause tens of millions of shekels of damage.