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(photo credit: AP [file])
Following a weekend of rocket fire on Ashkelon and other areas of the western Negev, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that Israel would not tolerate the escalation and would employ a wide array of measures in order to end the threat on southern Israel.
"Terrorists, led by Hamas, are trying to recuperate from the hard blow of Operation Cast Lead, and are doing this in the only way they know how to - through terror," he told ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
"The Israeli government has formulated policies and a unanimous decision has been made by the cabinet according to which, should the rocket fire continue, we will respond in a serious, painful, strong and uncompromising way," Olmert continued. "The cabinet's decision will be carried out until the terror organizations understand that Israel is not willing to accept their way.
"Israel has a wide range of options which can be used and these options will be utilized until total quiet is brought to the South," he added.
On Friday and Saturday, at least eight rockets struck various areas of the western Negev, including one that hit a school in Ashkelon. Nobody was wounded in any of the attacks, but various buildings sustained extensive damage.
During the meeting, the cabinet upheld its approval of an additional NIS 2.5 billion for the defense budget, rejecting the Finance Ministry's appeal against the extra funds.
Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On had said that the additional financing was unnecessary since the IDF could get its required funds from money already allotted to the defense establishment.
Prior to the cabinet meeting, Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Israel "must respond severely" to the rocket fire.
Similarly, Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan said that Israel "cannot leave the situation like it is," and that it needs to respond "decisively."
Meanwhile, Public Security Minster Avi Dichter said he had "no doubt" that there would be more IDF operations in Gaza.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Dichter said that the operation had achieved its main objective of hitting Hamas hard, citing "700 Hamas gunmen killed and some one thousand wounded," but he conceded that it hadn't totally deterred the group from launching more rockets and smuggling weapons.
Dichter said that "whoever thinks Hamas can be smashed with one blow is mistaken," adding that although it would take years to destroy the group's military capability, that should be Israel's ultimate goal.
Concerning captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, Dichter said Israel was making the utmost effort to secure the captive soldier's release and dismissed claims that recent internal Israeli developments had hindered chances of a deal.
With regards to the Hamas reconciliation talks with Fatah, the public security minister said they were an attempt by the Islamic group to take over the whole of the Palestinian territories.
"Hamas aims to rule the entire Palestinian Authority," he said. "It tried to do this militarily and failed, so it's now trying legally, just like Hizbullah did in Lebanon."