PM Nixes Broad IDF Operation in Gaza; Peretz Vows Continued Pressure

Peretz threatens to use 'painful' force, asks for new operational plan to target rocket launchers.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed reservations Thursday regarding the possibility that the Israel Defense Forces may undertake an extensive operation in the Gaza Strip, but Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed that Israel would continue its pressure on Gaza in an effort to alleviate the Qassam rocket fire on the Negev.

Speaking to reporters on the return leg of his visit to the United States, Olmert also rejected a renewed IDF occupation of the Philadelphi Route, along the border between Gaza and Egypt. He said he favored pinpoint strikes instead.

"There are many thoughts on how to deal with the Qassam rocket attacks, and we should remember that this is not a war with a 'quick fix' solution," Olmert told reporters on his way from the United States to Israel.

"Those who repeatedly mention 'Defensive Shield' [a 2002 IDF operation in the West Bank] as an example, and demand that a similar operation be carried out in the Gaza Strip, must remember that terrorism has never ended, and terrorism continues in the West Bank to this day," the prime minister added.

"I take the Qassam attacks seriously but our activities in Gaza will be carried out each time on the basis of intelligence, readiness and the ability to limit these attacks to the extent possible," Olmert said.

Peretz, meanwhile, said that Israel would hit terror with "difficult and painful" force if moderate Palestinian elements did not exert more strength, and asked the defense establishment to present him with a new operational plan for targeting rocket launchers.

Olmert was speaking a day after the right-wing factions in the Knesset called for a harsh response to Qassam attacks on Sderot on Wednesday that killed a 57-year-old woman and left two others seriously wounded.

The chairman of the National Religious Party-National Union, MK Uri Ariel, said that if Israel did not embark on a "Defensive Shield 2," it would end up with "Lebanon War 3."

Olmert said that Israel and Egypt were working on ways to stem the flow of weapons into the southern Gaza town of Rafah, which has increased dramatically in the wake of Israel's 2005 pullout.

"We are doing a great deal on this issue, but are not always successful," Olmert said. "The Egyptians are also taking action but not always with the expected efficiency. With regards to the extension of the agreements [with Egypt] on Rafah and the Philadelphi Route, we intend to examine all the factors that would facilitate the prevention of weapons distribution in this area. There are no plans to change the current framework, but rather to make the present arrangements more efficient."