Despite attacks, large-scale Gaza operation not expected

Hamas launches Kassams, mortars as distraction from cell that intended to kidnap IDF soldiers; Israel set to submit formal protest to UNSC.

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April 24, 2007 14:45
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The IDF will not embark on a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip despite the rocket and mortar attacks launched on Israel on Independence Day, security and government officials estimated on Tuesday evening. Instead, the IDF was expected to carry out a targeted response.

  • Lieberman: Restraint seen as weakness According to the officials, while a special cabinet meeting was not expected in the wake of the attacks, there would be "progression" talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, senior ministers and security officials. Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that "the Palestinian unity government would not be an insurance policy for any official." Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to show restraint in order to avoid a "deterioration" in the region." He said the rocket attacks were a "one-time violation of the truce." Abbas was speaking in Rome after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said that Rome was concerned about the renewed rocket attacks and called on Abbas to adhere to the principles set by International Quartet, especially the recognition of Israel. The barrages of Kassam rockets and mortar shells Hamas fired at Israel on Tuesday morning were meant to provide cover for and distract attention from an attempted infiltration by a terror cell, whose members intended to kidnap IDF soldiers deployed along the Gaza border, IDF sources reported Tuesday afternoon. The sources said that the army's heightened alert, as well as a quick response by ground troops and IAF helicopters that had been hovering over Gaza, foiled the attempt. According to preliminary reports, no cell managed to cross into Israel. The IDF has been on high alert in recent weeks, ever since receiving intelligence that Hamas was planning to abduct soldiers in a raid similar to the one near Kerem Shalom in June, 2006 in which Cpl. Gilad Schalit was captured. According to an IDF source, Tuesday's attack was "Hizbullah-style," in that the group launched rockets to distract the troops on patrol and provide cover for the cell members' movements. Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said that he was not aware of any attempts by the group to kidnap soldiers. He said the rocket attacks were a response to Israel's actions in the West Bank. Barhoum told Israel Radio that Hamas would respond to every Israeli escalation and that the PA government would not confront the Palestinian factions as along as the IDF operations continued. Meanwhile, PA Deputy Prime Minister Azam el-Ahmad called on both sides to maintain the truce and to act immediately to achieve an extensive truce in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel is set submit a formal protest to the United Nations Security Council about the rocket fire and the attempt to kidnap solders. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman will make a speech in which he will hold Hamas responsible for the rocket fire and the kidnap attempt. Despite the rocket and mortar attacks and in contrast to Barhoum's remarks, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that his government had dedicated efforts to convince the Palestinian factions to maintain the truce with Israel. Haniyeh went on to say that the Palestinian factions had adopted a "positive position" on this issue. The PA prime minister added that the Palestinians were surprised by the aggression Israel was showing towards them. Meanwhile, PA government spokesman Ghazi Hamed reiterated that the PA government was interested in maintaining the truce, stressing that the calm would collapse if Israel continued with its aggression. Hamed called on Israel to stop threatening an incursion into the Gaza Strip. Earlier Tuesday, a spokesman for Hamas's military wing declared that the truce with Israel was no longer binding, Israel Radio reported. Following the attacks, Olmert held urgent meetings with security officials to discuss a possible response to the morning's attacks and IDF sources said that the army viewed both the rocket and mortar attacks and the attempted infiltration and kidnapping plan "severely." Olmert and Peretz spoke by phone to discuss a possible response.

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