Peretz Proposes Installing Qassam Warning System in Ashkelon

PM yet to approve proposal; Defense Minister speaks with Abbas, asks him to prevent rocket fire.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other senior defense establishment officials would like to install the "Red Color" warning system, designed to alert residents to incoming Qassam rocket fire, in the southern city of Ashkelon.

The system is currently installed in the western Negev town of Sderot, which has been a primary target for Qassam fire.

Peretz also spoke Sunday with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and asked him to prevent the Qassam rocket fire.

"The defence minister told (Abbas) Israel will not tolerate continued rocket fire," said a Defense Ministry spokeswoman, adding they would speak again.

A senior Palestinian official said Abbas had called for a "mutual ceasefire" in Gaza and the West Bank. Peretz, the official said, told Abbas: "There will be no ceasefire as long as rockets fall on our cities and towns."

The proposal to install the Qassam warning system in Ashkelon was raised during deliberations Sunday afternoon with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The proposal was not approved during the discussions, and is still being considered by the prime minister.

Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, expressed his opposition to the proposal during the deliberations. Dinur said such a decision would have far-reaching implications, and therefore should be subject to full cabinet approval.

According to Dinur, the system would be unable to distinguish between southern and northern Ashkelon, and thus would be activated throughout the entire city. This would paralyze the city, which has a population of 100,000, each time southern areas, which are closer to the Gaza Strip, come under Qassam fire.

"Can you take the responsibility on yourself?" Peretz responded. "If there is information [of rocket fire], we need to be careful."

During the meeting, a defense establishment proposal for partial reinforcement of schools in communities along the Gaza Strip was approved. A similar meeting will be held soon to discuss proposals for reinforcing residential buildings as well. The reinforcement is designed to protect against Qassam fire.

Peretz said on Sunday that he had ordered the renewed development of an anti-rocket system that will hopefully be able to curb the Qassam rocket fire on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

In the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Peretz said that the Defense Ministry is looking into methods of intercepting the rockets, as well as preventing their use altogether. A senior ministry official reported that several developers are currently working on devices that could be effective against both Qassam and Katyusha rockets.

Peretz also said at the meeting that recently he had approved every operation suggested by the Israel Defense Forces.

The defense minister made this comment in response to criticism that he has recently been restraining the IDF and hindering an expanded military operation to stop the Qassam rocket fire on the south of Israel.

At the weekly cabinet meeting, Peretz expressed his great dismay with several cabinet ministers' criticism of the IDF's operation in Gaza.

"The ministers' harsh words create a false impression that we are not doing everything necessary. We are acting wisely and constantly examining the operations and actions, out of regard to what is necessary and what the results may be, not as a reaction to criticism and protests," he said.

"Officials are coming to Sderot and telling the residents that I am holding the IDF back and preventing action," Peretz added, "I don't intend to take criticism that is clearly not based on facts."

The defense minister stressed that the "IDF is now operating in a wider scope than in the past within the Gaza Strip. Every operation is approved based on its specific objectives. We have to give the public the feeling that we are fulfilling our duty."

Peretz said that he had instructed the Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to expand IDF action in Gaza. "The IDF will act in initiatives rather than responses," Peretz said, "however, we will resist falling back into the mire of Gaza."

Livni: Israel must present its own peace initiativeEarlier on Sunday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel must come forward with a peace initiative of its own, rather than wait for the intervention of international players in its dealings with the Palestinians.

Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Livni said that in order for Israel to terminate the diplomatic vacuum with the Palestinian Authority, it must work toward establishing serious talks by coordinating with the Palestinians.

Also Sunday morning, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed a United Nations resolution condemning the killing of some 20 Palestinians in Beit Hanun by Israel earlier this month.

"Those who should answer to accusations for hurting innocent civilians are those who fire rockets, as a systematic policy of harming the citizens of Israel. They do it without being condemned by any of the eye-rolling moral preachers," the prime minister said.

Olmert added that he deplores the UN resolution and that the government extends its full support to the security forces, the Israel Defense Forces and to its Chief of Staff Dan Halutz.

Livni's comments were made after Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Friday that a new peace initiative drafted by his country, France and Italy, was not presented to Israel for fear it would dismiss it prematurely.

Approaching the Palestinians with an initiative of its own, Livni said, would allow Israel to formulate a plan that would secure its interests, without compromising the degree of coordination with the Palestinians.

The foreign minister said that the UN resolution on the Beit Hanun shelling allowed anti-Israeli forces "to release steam." Livni mentioned that a similar resolution placed for a vote at the UN Security Council had been rejected recently.

On Saturday, the Israeli envoy to the UN Dan Gillerman expressed his rage at the resolution condemning the Beit Hanun shelling.

In an interview with Haaretz, Gillerman was highly critical of France, which was particularly active in raising the majority at the UN vote, pressuring European nations that considered abstention to support the resolution. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the resolution.