Officials divided over response as Olmert weighs options

January 30, 2007 01:44
3 minute read.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to hold talks Tuesday with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and senior security officials to discuss Monday's suicide bombing in Eilat and how Israel should respond. While Peretz called on Monday for an end to Israel's policy of restraint against Palestinian terror organizations and ordered the IDF to prepare to launch operations inside the Gaza Strip, other government officials said it was first necessary to establish convincingly where the suicide bomber came from, and which organization was behind the attack. The identity of the terrorist organization responsible for Monday's attack would help determine how Israel will respond, government officials said in advance of Tuesday's security consultation, amid speculation that Israel would renew targeted attacks on terrorist leaders. One official said that although there were claims of responsibility from Islamic Jihad, the Aksa Martyrs' Brigades and al-Qaida, it seemed most likely that it was only Islamic Jihad - whose leadership is in Damascus and which has been trying to carry out an attack for months - was behind the bombing. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said that Olmert did not speak Monday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, from whose territory the terrorist apparently entered Israel. Israel has been pressing Egypt for months to take more forceful action against terrorism, including fighting arms smuggling and pursuing terrorist suspects in Sinai. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said the attack should serve as a message to the Egyptians to do more on their side of the border to prevent this type of attack in the future. And Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said Israel would ask Egypt to assert more control over who is allowed into Egypt from Gaza. Olmert, speaking soon after the attack at a Kadima faction meeting, said Israel had for months "enjoyed the illusion of quiet." But, he said, it was just that - an illusion - and that security forces had in recent months succeeded in thwarting numerous attacks. "We shall draw the conclusions and learn the lessons, and instruct our security people to continue their ongoing and never-ending struggle against terrorists and those who send them," Olmert said. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, issued a statement saying that Israel "has shown extraordinary restraint in order to give the Palestinians an opportunity to fight terror and stop the attacks. Unfortunately the Palestinians failed to stop them." Livni said the international community must continue to put pressure on the Hamas-led government. Israel, she said, "will continue to act to defend its citizens." Her call for the international community to keep up the pressure on the Hamas-led PA comes as the Quartet is scheduled to meet in Washington on Friday to discuss the overall situation. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas denounced the Eilat bombing upon his arrival in Cairo, the Palestinian WAFA news agency reported. The US embassy in Tel Aviv issued a statement saying that the US strongly condemned the attack and "those Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, that condone these barbaric actions." "The burden of responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks rests with the Palestinian Authority government," the statement read. "Failure to act against terror will inevitably affect relations between that government and the international community and undermine the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own." British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also issued a statement condemning the attack, saying "such incidents only serve to escalate further an already tense situation in the region." UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the Eilat attack "in the strongest possible terms." "Such acts of terrorism are a violation of international humanitarian law and can never be justified," he said in a statement issued by the UN, expressing his deepest condolences to the families of the victims. "The secretary-general is also alarmed at announcements that further attacks against Israeli civilians are being planned," the statement said. "He calls for swift action by Palestinian security forces to bring to justice those responsible and prevent further attacks."

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