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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said Sunday that speculations about an upcoming war with Syria were premature and exaggerated, Army Radio reported.
"Damascus may be pulling the strings, but we have lowered the temperature on the northern front," Halutz declared at the weekly cabinet meeting.
PM tells cabinet he underwent eyelid surgery
He did not, however, reject the possibility of a future confrontation. "[These speculations are untrue], but we are always assessing," he said, adding that "the Syrians, too, have heard these expressions. Sometimes speculation can lead to a result that no one wants."
He cautioned, however, that Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah was increasing his efforts to bring down the current anti-Syrian Lebanese government.
Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin, meanwhile, said at the meeting that the unprecedented level of violence last week between Fatah and Hamas has increased the chance of a Palestinian unity government.
"The violence between the two factions is the worst that we've had in a long time, with 20 killed in one week," Diskin said. "Most of the violence is Hamas members killing Fatah members.
But as the violence gets worse, the chances are better that there will be a national unity government."
Diskin elaborated further about estimated progress with the formation of a unity government, saying that a deal was in the works.
"There's growing talk on the Palestinian street of a unity government which would include Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister, Salaam Fayad as finance minister, and an interior minister from the outside who would be agreeable to both."
In addition, Diskin said that even the Palestinians themselves were taken aback by the level of violence between the two factions.
"Although Palestinian society has had its share of violence, Palestinians are still shocked by the level of intra-Palestinian violence from last week," he said.
Diskin also informed the cabinet that there was growing talk of a possible hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners to end the violence, but he insisted that Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal could put an end to it if he wanted.
On a more optimistic note, Diskin said that the "calm" between Israel and Hamas was being observed, and said that Hamas had not given rockets to other organizations such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees. In the past, they were known to have provided such rockets.
Diskin warned, however, that while Hamas was refraining from shooting Kassam rockets, such restraint could be due to their desire to rebuild their strength. In addition, Diskin said that other factions have not been observing the calm - foremost among them the Islamic Jihad - and that Hamas has not and will not take any action against these "resistance forces."
Diskin also said that there had been a significant drop in arms transfers from Sinai to the Gaza Strip and that this was possibly because the Egyptians were being more diligent in prevented such weapons smuggling.
Even Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has not taken any real action to restrain these groups, Diskin said, despite directives that Abbas issued to that purpose.
Turning to the tenuous security situation along the Gaza-Egyptian border, Diskin said that there has been a decline in arms smuggling from Sinai to Gaza, and that this might be because the Egyptians are doing more to prevent smuggling. He added, however, that Hamas has continued to receive money from Iran, and that the money continues to be smuggled in through Egypt.
With regards to Hizbullah, Diskin told the cabinet that the organization was working to build an infrastructure in Gaza, the West Bank, and even to a certain degree among Israeli Arabs.
"The international isolation of Hamas is working, but it is also driving them into the arms of Iran," Diskin said. "Money is not really going in, and they're not getting much attention from the world, but Iran is giving them money and training."
Also at Sunday's meeting, a number of ministers called for a military operation in the Gaza Strip that would target Kassam rocket cells.
Shas chairman Eli Yishai said that Israel would pay a "heavy price" for failing to act against Kassams.
Yishai said he hoped that the security cabinet would discuss ways of stopping Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, and warned that Israel could not give terror organizations time to "get organized."
Israel Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said that since the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians was declared, some 100 Kassams had been launched at Israel.
Lieberman reiterated his proposal that Israel seek membership in the European Union and NATO, and said that some 30,000 NATO troops should be deployed to keep the peace in Gaza.
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