idf tank in beit hanoun,.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For the first time since becoming prime minister, Ehud Olmert visited the western Negev town of Sderot on Tuesday morning and met with Mayor Eli Moyal and other regional leaders. Olmert was accompanied by Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Olmert said the IDF would cease hitting infrastructure in Gaza only after the Palestinians stop the firing of Kassam rockets at southern Israel. "It is not so pleasant without electricity, but Kassams kill," he said.
The prime minister made an unscheduled stop at the town, before heading to speak at the Negev Conference. Moyal told Israel Radio that the meeting lasted only 15 minutes.
Moyal said Olmert told him that the IDF offensive in Gaza had been planned regardless of the Kerem Shalom attack and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit.
Residents of Sderot expressed their frustration of the short visit. "He only came here because of the Negev Conference, otherwise he wouldn't even have come. We will bring him down in the next elections. It is a disgrace that he shows up for such a short time and then leaves us in enemy territory," one resident said.
Since Tuesday morning, four Kassam rockets have been fired at the western Negev, causing no injuries or damage. IDF artillery is pounding northern Gaza in response.
Olmert told participants at the Negev Conference in Be'er Sheva a short while later that the visit was not made public only because of the concern terror groups would make every effort to fire at the town during the visit. "As a minister I was here many times. I am sorry that on this occasion it was harder," he said.
According to Olmert, "The strengthening of Sderot and the communities surrounding Gaza is a major priority of the government. The reality here is of a rehabilitated economy. Of course, there are also problems, such as the fortification of public institutions and the issue of security, which is a very tough burden on the region," he said.
Olmert reiterated the government's position by which Israel would "not yield to blackmail or negotiate with terrorists. We will not let anyone think that by kidnapping, one can achieve something. This is a long war, which demands patience and at times restraint. We will know when to bite our tongue and when to hit back with all our force."
Olmert praised the Shalit family for its "calm, restraint and emotional stamina." He vowed to do "everything possible to bring him home."
"We know Gilad is being held by a gang of brutal terrorists who want to harm the foundations of our state, but de facto they only harm the Palestinian population," the prime minister added.
According to Olmert, he instructed the IDF to "continue the operation to hit terrorists and those who give them shelter and those who give them the orders."
The prime minister said he understood the worry for the safety of one soldier. "He who saves one soul, saves an entire people," Olmert quoted the Talmud.