Olmert Vows Israel Will Use an 'Iron Fist' to Fight Terror

Kadima officials blame party's drop in latest Haaretz poll on Olmert's appearance as weaker on terror than Sharon.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, reacting to a recent upsurge in Palestinian militant attacks, vowed Thursday to use "an iron fist" against acts of terror, and said no restrictions would be placed on security forces.

Olmert spoke after a rash of shooting and stabbing attacks claimed the life of one Israeli civilian and injured five. In the latest attack, an Israeli man was stabbed in the neck at a factory in northern Jerusalem on Thursday.

Additionally, militants in Gaza have been firing homemade rockets at southern Israel, unsettling residents but causing few injuries.

"We will use an iron first against any attempt to renew terror activity anywhere," Olmert told reporters during a press conference at the president's residence in Jerusalem.

"There are no restraints on security forces to use any means necessary to stop terror attacks."

A day earlier, at a campaign stop ahead of March 28 elections, Olmert said Israel would pursue all opportunities for peace, but would relentlessly fight Palestinian terrorism.

"No one who fires off a Qassam rocket will have a moment's rest, because we shall seek him out everywhere, track him everywhere, reach him and make sure he is not able to do it," Olmert said.

Olmert also told reporters that Israel was intensifying its campaign against the Al-Qaida terror network, in reaction to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' announcement of signs of an al-Qaida presence in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

"There are, of course, attempts by terror elements, including international ones, to extend their reach in areas adjacent to us," Olmert said.

"We are systematically intensifying our war," he said, adding that "all restraints have been lifted on security forces where preventing and thwarting [terror] is concerned."

Kadima officials: Olmert seems weaker than SharonOlmert's statements on Israel's security follow concern expressed Wednesday night by Kadima officials over the party's continued slide in public opinion polls, as illustrated by the latest Haaretz-Channel 10 survey and internal polls conducted by Kadima itself.

Kadima's biggest problem, senior party officials said Wednesday night, was that "[Acting Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert isn't [Ariel] Sharon. He isn't perceived as Mr. Security; he looks a lot weaker than Arik, and we feel that the security problems are eating away at us, particularly to the benefit of the right."

Kadima lost another two Knesset seats over the past week, and the party is now tipped to win just 37 spots for first time in two months. The erosion of the party once led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and now captained by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert continued this past week.

The officials added that recent publications regarding Olmert's real-estate deals did not help, and that over the coming week, Kadima "will have to come up with appropriate responses."

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss ruled Wednesday that there was nothing improper about Olmert's sale-rental deal on his Jerusalem apartment. Lindenstrauss said that while the $2,250 monthly rent that the Olmerts are paying to live in the apartment appeared relatively low, it was not unreasonable.

"Every Tom, Dick and Harry feels he can say whatever he wants, and there is someone who buys it," Olmert said Wednesday after the release of the state comptroller's findings. "They should at least apologize. After all, the state comptroller has already ruled out anything improper. I'm calling on them to apologize."

Olmert was speaking in Rishon Letzion at a convention of local authority leaders who have expressed support for Kadima. Prior to the convention, Olmert met with his advisers to discuss the comptroller's report, with talk focusing on attacks he has come under in recent weeks and how to combat them.

Some Kadima officials said at the meeting that the party's fall in the latest public opinion polls could be due to the Russian vote, which is leaving Kadima but has yet to move to other parties.

With less than one month before national elections, Kadima is slowly but steadily losing ground against its rival parties.

According to the most recent poll, Labor is "stagnant" at 19 seats, for the third straight week, while the Likud gained one to move up to 15.

However, the two main parties lumbering just behind Kadima and contending for an apparent second spot have gained little to no ground.

It is already more than clear that Kadima is losing steam and just one question remains: When will it stop?

It is still difficult to envision a party stealing the lead from Kadima and being in position to form the next government. But Olmert's "kernel of strength" is continuing to shrivel.

The 44 to 45 seats that polls projected Kadima would secure after the hospitalization of Sharon are not, in all likelihood, salvageable.

Among other competing parties, only Meretz-Yahad has undergone a fundamental change. For the first time in a long time, Meretz-Yahad has six seats in the current poll. (Meretz-Yahad also has six members in the current Knesset).

It is important to note that the poll was conducted one day before the Likud Central Committee convened Wednesday evening to vote on altering the method by which it selects its Knesset list.

Likud officials are hoping that Wednesday night's decision by the party's central committee to hold primaries to select its Knesset slate will bring the party more seats in the coming weeks.

Likud Chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu expressed satisfaction Wednesday night with the committee's decision to support his proposal. "The Likud is once again becoming the most democratic anc cleanest party in Israel," he said.

The Haaretz-Channel 10 TV News poll, conducted by Dialog under the supervision of Tel Aviv University Professor Camil Fuchs, was conducted Tuesday and questioned a sample population of 590 respondents. There is a 4.1 percent margin of error.

Labor led by Ayalon would bolt aheadPoll respondents were asked how they would vote if Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz was replaced by former Shin Bet director Ami Ayalon. Their answer was decisive: Labor would bolt ahead and secure 26 seats.

Those seats would be stolen from Meretz-Yahad and Kadima which, in the fictional scenario, would drop to 34 seats.