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Despite Monday's suicide attack in Eilat, the government will maintain its policy of restraint in Gaza, in part so the warring Palestinian factions will not have a reason to unite, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided on Tuesday.
Olmert met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and other top security officials to discuss Israel's response to the bombing, and decided that a widespread military action in Gaza would, according to one government official, "unite the Palestinians against us."
At the same time, the official said, it was decided that military action against Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for the blast that killed three people, would be permitted.
According to defense officials, the IDF is still "extremely limited" in its ability to stop infiltrators and it is very possible that terrorists would succeed in crossing the border from Egypt to Israel.
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In addition to Olmert and Peretz, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin and Israel Police Deputy Commissioner Benny Kaniak took part in Tuesday's security consultations.
Defense officials continued to point an accusatory finger at Egypt, which they said could do more to prevent infiltrations into Sinai from Gaza and then into Israel.
On Tuesday, Division 80, responsible for securing the Egyptian-Israeli border, beefed up its forces near Eilat. In addition, IDF liaison officers asked their Egyptian counterparts to increase efforts to stop the terror flow from Sinai into Israel.
"The Egyptians can do more," said one defense official on Tuesday. "It is just a matter of whether they want to."
A diplomatic official said Israel had been pressing the Egyptians for years to take more effective action on their side of the border to prevent arms smuggling and the infiltration of terrorists, but to little avail. The official said some in Sinai were making a lot of money through smuggling, which includes not only arms and terrorists, but also drugs and women.
The official said that when Israel pressed the Egyptians on this matter, Cairo's reflexive response was that they needed more personnel and security equipment in the area to successfully fight the phenomenon, something Israel is unlikely to agree to because of a long-term fear that the introduction of more forces and weaponry could eventually create a strategic threat to Israel.
Jordan's King Abdullah phoned Olmert on Monday evening and urged Israel to show restraint in its response to the Eilat attack.
According to a statement released by the official Jordanian Petra news agency, Abdullah "stressed the need for accelerating the peace process to avert any attempt to undermine efforts to restore negotiation between the Palestinians and Israelis."
A Israeli diplomatic official said that this was Jordanian diplomatic-speak for calling on Israel to continue its policy of restraint.
According to the Jordanian statement, Abdullah condemned the Eilat attack and expressed hope that it would "not affect the reviving of the peace process."
Peretz, who left for Belgium Tuesday in his first state visit abroad, visited Eilat and promised that the IDF would step up patrols along the border in an effort to prevent future infiltrations.
"We will step up operations and deal with this type of terrorist activity," Peretz said. "We will do everything to defend our civilians and prevent damage to the tourism industry in the city."
Israeli officials, meanwhile, emphatically denied that an IAF aircraft bombing of a terror tunnel near the Karni Crossing in the northern Gaza Strip Tuesday morning was in response to the Eilat attack. No casualties were reported in the air strike, which was the first IDF action within the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire took effect two months ago.
The officials said intelligence information indicated Palestinians planned to use the tunnel to blow up the Karni Crossing. The officials said the attack on the tunnel was approved on Thursday evening - well before the suicide bombing in Eilat - by the political echelon, after the Palestinians failed to destroy the tunnel.â€¢