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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
On the day IDF troops rolled back into Gaza, just 10 months after leaving, Israel assured the world it has no intention of staying, but only wants to free captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
"We have no intention of occupying Gaza again," Olmert said Wednesday at a scientific and artistic awards ceremony in Jerusalem. "We have no intention of staying there; we have one central goal and that is to bring Gilad home."
Olmert, who has given speeches every day since the crisis began Sunday during which he has articulated the government's daily message, said that Israel's policy has always been not to abandon its soldiers in the field, and that Israel would not hesitate to take "extreme actions" to release Shalit. At the same time, he stressed that Israel would not negotiate for his release.
Olmert held security consultations during the day to weigh further military measures, and also spoke by phone with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Annan said he called Syrian President Bashar Assad and PA President Mahmoud Abbas and urged them to work for Shalit's release.
"Last night's action is not the end of the story, and we will need to continue the military activity," he said. "We will also continue our action to thwart terror attacks and no one involved in terrorism will be immune."
Olmert said that Israel does not want to harm Palestinian civilians, and placed responsibility for the situation on the shoulders of the Hamas-led government and those connected to it in Damascus. The deterioration of the situation and a worsening of the situation of the population will be their direct responsibility," he said.
Earlier in the week Olmert hinted that Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal was in Israel's sights.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon kept the focus on Mashaal Wednesday, telling visiting US Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales that "the US and the international community cannot remain indifferent to the fact that Syria, a member of the United Nations, provides a haven for the arch-terrorist who masterminded the kidnapping of Shalit and is preventing his release."
Ramon said that were Osama bin Laden operating in a similar manner from Damascus, he had no doubt that the international community would take vigorous action to put a stop to it.
According to Ramon's office, Gonzales, who in an interview with The Jerusalem Post Wednesday would not comment on the current crisis, said that he understood the matter and would convey Ramon's message. He pointed out that after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US, President George W. Bush said that whoever aids terrorists was also a terrorist.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel launched the current military action after weeks of restraint during which the terrorist organizations, under the cover of the Hamas government, fired salvos of Kassam rockets on Israeli schools and pre-schools.
Israel, she said, went into Gaza "not to harm the civilian population, but to make possible for the civilian population in Sderot and everywhere else to continue to live their lives."
Meanwhile, Israel's diplomats abroad, some of whom were hearing criticism of disproportionality in Israel's response, were instructed by the ministry to stress that the military operation is "specific in nature and limited in scope." The purpose of the operation, according to the ministry's talking points distributed to representatives abroad, "is to deal a blow to the Hamas terrorist infrastructure which is thus far operating unhindered, and to prevent the continuation of terrorist attacks from Gaza launched against Israel civilians."
Israel's representatives abroad were instructed to stress that Israel took military action after it became clear that PA President Mahmoud Abbas "is not capable of ensuring the return of Shalit or of preventing Kassam rocket fire." Israel is stressing that the operation came after weeks of "unceasing Kassam rocket attacks" and after all diplomatic efforts to secure Shalit's efforts had failed.
Not everybody, however, is convinced that the diplomatic efforts have run their course. European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who condemned the capture of Shalit and called for his immediate release, also called for Israel to act "with prudence."
"We understand their [Israel's] outrage, but diplomatic efforts to free the soldier must be allowed to work," she said in a statement. "I am disturbed by reports of interruption of electricity supply including in vital services such as hospitals. Everything must be done to prevent the humanitarian situation from worsening. Both sides need to step back from the brink before this becomes a crisis that neither can control."
Dan Izenberg contributed to this report.