PM Won't Ditch Policy of Restraint Despite Qassams

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is intent on adhering to the policy of restraint in face of the continued Qassam rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, a senior political source in Jerusalem said yesterday.

Six Qassam rockets were fired against the western Negev yesterday. No injuries were reported.

Speaking yesterday at a joint press conference with the visiting Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, Olmert said that "for a number of weeks now I have used my authority in order to prevent a response to the continued Qassam rocket attacks, but it is clear that it is impossible to ignore this for long, so long as the Palestinians continue to shoot."

In response to the Qassam attacks yesterday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz declared that "Israel has no intention of gambling over the security of its citizens. Restraint has its limits. The launching of rockets is a blatant violation of the cease-fire."

Peretz also stressed that in the West Bank "there is no cease-fire. There is no reason to allow terrorists to carry out their plans and carry out attacks. If the cease-fire violations in the Gaza Strip continue, the policy of restraint will be changed."

Olmert is scheduled to hold a series of meetings with leading members of the defense establishment in which the future of the fragile cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will be evaluated.

The Prime Minister will meet with Defense Minister Peretz, Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin and the Minister of Public Security, Avi Dichter.

The issue of the cease-fire will dominate all meetings, and Olmert is keen to stress that Israel should not be the one that announces an end to the cease-fire.

Olmert has the backing of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on this matter.

Notwithstanding the continuous Palestinian violations in the form of Qassam rocket attacks, "the cease-fire provides more calm than without it," a senior political source said yesterday.

The source added that the cease-fire is also important for Israel diplomatically.

This is a particularly relevant point in view of the infighting that has prevailed in the Gaza Strip during the past week. Israel may choose to adhere to its commitment to the cease-fire precisely because it wants to avoid being blamed for intervening in an internal Palestinian conflict.

It would seem that so long as the Qassam attacks result in no injuries, Israel will continue its policy of relative restraint.

The cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip went into effect nearly four weeks ago, but according to the Israel Defense Forces the Palestinians fired 39 rockets against Israel during that period.

Most of the rocket attacks were carried out by members of Islamic Jihad, an organization whose participation in the cease-fire was unclear from the start.

One possibility is that the six rockets fired into Israel yesterday were a response to the killing of two Islamic Jihad militants near Jenin by officers of a police anti-terror unit.

However, IDF sources say that for some time now the enforcement of the cease-fire by the Palestinians has been loose and that rockets are being fired by groups that oppose Hamas, such as radical factions of Fatah and Islamic Jihad.

The current instability and fighting among factions in the Gaza Strip is depleting the resources and attention of Hamas, which is not investing great efforts in preventing the launching of missiles against Israel.

The instability in the Gaza Strip has led senior IDF officers, mostly in the Southern Command, to call for easing the strict rules of engagement put in place for the cease-fire, and allow troops to open fire against Qassam rocket crews.

The current orders are not to shoot at the militants even if they have been clearly identified as preparing to launch rockets against Israel.