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(photo credit: Channel 2)
After a cabinet meeting during which the ministers' frustrations at the country's inability to stop Kassam fire on Israel surfaced, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas that Israel will not tolerate a continuation of the rocket fire.
The Peretz-Abbas telephone conversation came in advance of a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday where operative decisions on how to deal with the continuous fire are expected to be made.
For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here
Peretz urged Abbas to use his presidential authority and do everything to stop the Kassam attacks. Earlier in the day, at the cabinet meeting, Shin Bet (Israel's Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin characterized Abbas as "a general without soldiers."
While Prime Minster Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Shimon Peres have warned that there was no "quick fix" to the Kassam problem, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter sparked a maelstrom in the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday by suggesting that the IDF could stop the attacks if simply given the green light by the political echelon.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told Dichter that if he knew of such a plan, he should bring it to the cabinet for approval.
"If you are in favor of occupying all of Gaza, say so," Mofaz said. Dichter did not reply.
Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said that if the army had any such magic solutions, it would not wait for a directive from the political echelon but already have put them to use. Peretz urged the ministers not to create an impression that there were magic solutions that the IDF was not willing to implement.
Peres, meanwhile, urged proportion and perspective in dealing with the Kassams.
"Until now thousands of mortars and rockets have fallen, and since disengagement only 15 people have been killed. We are cabinet ministers, and not rabble-rousers in the square - our job is to give operational suggestions," Peres said.
Peres added that the solution needed to be systematic, on the one hand reinforcing buildings in Sderot to protect them from rocket fire, and on the other hand to take the offensive to stop the firing. But, he said, he did not recommend going back into Gaza and regaining responsibility for the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.
Olmert summed up the discussion by calling on the ministers to act like ministers, and not as "members of a debating society."
In an apparent reference to Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit, who said last week that Israel should be more open to the Saudi proposal from 2002, Olmert said that if ministers have ideas they should bring them to the cabinet, and he should not have to hear about them in the media.
The government was also divided on whether to install in Ashkelon the Red Dawn system that warns of incoming rockets.
Peretz recommended that the Red Dawn system be activated in Ashkelon, while Ra'anan Dinur, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, said that this would effectively paralyze Ashkelon.
At a special meeting held in the Prime Minister's Office on ways to assist citizens in the western Negev, Dinur said that the system would be unable to distinguish if a rocket was projected to strike in north or south Ashkelon, a city of some 120,000 people. The warning siren would be activated throughout the city for a rocket strike in the southern industrial zone or outside the city limits entirely, Dinur said, bringing the bustling city to a grinding halt.
In addition, he said, installing the system in Ashkelon would concede that Israel was powerless to stop the Kassam barrages.
Regarding the attempts in the Palestinian Authority to put together a unity government, Olmert called on the ministers to wait patiently and see what transpires before making statements and taking a stand.
"I suggest that a new diplomatic plan is not initiated every day," he said, calling on the ministers to take into consideration the ramifications of their statements regarding what Israel should do both in Gaza, and regarding the Palestinians.
Olmert also had strong words to say about Friday's UN General Assembly decision condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza. "Anyone who intentionally aims at civilians should be condemned," Olmert said. "Only those who roll their eyes and preach morality feel that [Israel] should be condemned."
He said that "the entire government has complete confidence" in the army and in Halutz.
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