PM Nixes Broad IDF Operation in Gaza Strip

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed reservations yesterday regarding the possibility that the Israel Defense Forces may undertake an extensive operation in the Gaza Strip. 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.

"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 the plane 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.

Meanwhile, Israel yesterday rejected a new European Union initiative, headed by France and Spain, which called for the deployment of an international force to supervise a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni had a "sharp" telephone exchange with her Spanish counterpart, Miguel Moratinos, and made it clear to him that no initiative involving Israel which "was not coordinated with us," is acceptable.

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The launching of Qassam rocket attacks against Israeli towns in the western Negev continued yesterday, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz ordered the IDF to present him with new and "more aggressive" plans of action to curtail the rocket attacks. No injuries were reported in yesterday's attacks.

In talks held yesterday with senior IDF officers, Peretz expressed his "hope that the trend in the Palestinian Authority will be to bolster the moderate elements," and warned that "if not, Israel will strike Gaza with force."

During earlier meetings, Peretz had rejected the possibility that a broad ground offensive, which would include the occupation of parts of the Gaza Strip, would be authorized.

For now, even a lesser operation, similar to "Autumn Clouds," which ended 10 days ago, is not being considered. The IDF is making do with stepping up the pressure on paramilitary organizations through air power.

Yesterday, the air force attacked five structures in the Gaza Strip suspected of being used as weapons depots for militant organizations.

Also yesterday, the defense minister ordered the speeding-up of finding a solution to the problem of reinforcing structures in Israeli towns situated close to the border, particularly for educational institutions.

Immediate priority is being given to the offices of the psychological treatment center in Sderot, where many shock victims are receiving help.

The prime minister's opposition to a large scale operation in Gaza suggests a rift with the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, who told the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense earlier this week that it will be necessary to carry out a major military operation in the Gaza Strip in the future.

Diskin, who did not call for an immediate operation but suggested that a two month period be given to moderates in the Palestinian Authority to regain control of the Gaza Strip, did note that since the disengagement more than a year ago, huge quantities of explosives and weapons had been smuggled from Sinai.

"We are doing a great deal to stop this but we are not always successful," Olmert told reporters yesterday.

"Egypt is also taking action, but not always with the necessary efficiency. As we approach the renewal of the agreements on the Rafah crossing and the Philadelphi Route, we intend to examine ways of upgrading all methods of preventing smuggling with all parties," he added.