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(photo credit: AP [file])
Some 200 kilometers away from the Gaza Strip, the Knesset became a battleground on Monday between Jewish MKs, who unanimously supported the IDF operation there, and Arab MKs, who united against it.
The Knesset endorsed the assault after Arab MKs failed to pass a proposal calling for an immediate cease-fire. Balad MKs boycotted the session while other Arab MKs took turns heckling Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
United Arab List MK Taleb A-Sanaa was removed from the plenum when he responded to Barak's claim that 300 terrorists had been killed since the fighting began by shouting, "Tell the Knesset how many of them were women and children."
"The panicking in Sderot was unfortunate, but who said the reaction had to be rivers of blood in Gaza?" Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi said in his speech from the Knesset podium. "I am against harming any citizen. But I admit that when Arabs - people of my nationality - are harmed, it hurts me more." Tibi accused the Jewish politicians who spoke before him of "counting bodies while they count mandates."
Hadash MK Muhammad Barakei added that he was in his one and only homeland, while the Jewish MKs had other homelands to return to.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman called the Arab MKs traitors and a "fifth column for the Hamas."
Netanyahu called on all citizens of Israel, Arab and Jewish, to "remain loyal to the state of Israel during this just war against our enemy."
"We stand united in this war," Netanyahu said. "Not every citizen must automatically support every move the government makes, but it is unacceptable for Israeli citizens to support our enemies."
The opposition leader urged Israeli Arabs to condemn fundamentalism in their communities, and said that Israel would act forcefully against Israeli Hamas supporters.
Barak said that Israel would expand its military operation in the Gaza Strip until all its goals were achieved. Barak added that the IDF was targeting Hamas leadership and its allies in Gaza. "We want peace. We've extended our hand [in peace] more than once to the Palestinian people," he said. "We have nothing against the people of Gaza but we have a war to the bitter end with Hamas and its offshoots..."
"This operation will be extended and deepened as we find necessary," Barak said. "Our goal is to strike Hamas and stop the attacks on Israel. Hamas controls Gaza and is responsible for everything happening there and for all attacks carried out from within the Strip. The goals of this operation are to stop Hamas from attacking our citizens and soldiers."
Barak said that Israel was making great efforts to prevent civilian casualties while it fights the Hamas leadership and was not preventing humanitarian aid from entering the Gaza Strip. He said he was not sorry for Israel's restraint in previous months and noted that Operation Cast Lead had been planned by the security establishment long ago.
Livni, who spoke after Barak, said the battle was not between Jews and Arabs but between moderates seeking peace and those who support Hamas terrorism. She called upon Arab leaders in Israel to choose a side in that conflict.
"Hamas is an Islamic extremist group that does not serve its people but only itself," Livni said. "It's a terrorist organization funded and trained by Iran. I will not accept any equation between the Hamas that tries to kill children and Israel that defends itself while doing everything possible to prevent harming children."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to cancel the special session of the Knesset and he boycotted it when she decided otherwise. Itzik said she saw no reason not to hold a debate in the Knesset when it was going on in the press in any case.
Shalhevet Zohar contributed to this report