(photo credit: AP [file])
In what sounded like a last-ditch appeal before military action, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert turned directly to Gaza Strip residents Thursday with a request to "stop it."
"I say to you in a last minute call, stop it," Olmert said in an interview Thursday on the Arab satellite station Al Arabiya.
"Stop it, you the citizens of Gaza, you can stop it. I know how much you want to get up in the morning to quiet, to take your children to kindergarten or school, the way we do, they way they want to in Sderot and Netivot."
In the unusual direct appeal, Olmert said Hamas was the enemy not only of Israel, but also of Gaza.
Olmert, who said he was speaking as a father and a grandfather, asked if it was in the spirit of Islam to kill innocent children, or to fire missiles at preschools and civilians.
"I don't think that is the sprit of Islam," he said. "Hamas, which is doing that against the spirit of Islam, is the main reason for your suffering, and ours."
Olmert said that Israel had left Gaza with no intention of returning to it.
"We want to live as good neighbors with Gaza," he said. "We don't want to harm you, and we will not allow a humanitarian crisis where you will suffer from a lack of food and medicine. We don't want to fight with the Palestinian people, but we will not allow Hamas to strike our children."
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Al Arabiya had a long-standing request to interview Olmert, and the time had now been deemed right to convey a message directly to the Gazans. Al Arabiya is viewed widely in Gaza and the Arab world.
Olmert said that Israel had a great deal of might, which it didn't want to use but would not hesitate to employ against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
"I didn't come here to declare war," Olmert said. "But Hamas must be stopped - that is what will be. I will not hesitate to use Israel's might to strike Hamas and (Islamic) Jihad. How? I will not go into details now," Olmert said.
"Don't let Hamas, which is acting against the values of Islam, put you in danger," he said. "Stop them. Stop your enemies and ours. Tell them to stop firing on innocent civilians."