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Speaking on Monday at the opening session of the 13th plenary of the World Jewish Congress, President Shimon Peres sought to correct what he termed "misunderstandings" and the "misrepresentation of facts" about the disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties in Operation Cast Lead.
During the period 2000-2009 there had been 5,792 Qassam rockets and 4,411 mortars launched from Gaza against Israel, the overwhelming majority in the last two years.
"I don't know of any other country that went through such an experience," said Peres.
Citing statistics of Israeli casualties of Palestinian terrorism, Peres said 842 civilians and 325 soldiers had been killed in recent years, making a total of 1,167 fatalities.
"So where is the disproportion?" he queried, making the point that more than a thousand Israeli lives were lost in attacks from Gaza, in addition to others from attacks in the West Bank.
Contrary to charges that Israel did not permit the transfer of food and fuel into Gaza, Peres said that 42,327 trucks transporting essential supplies had been allowed into Gaza.
"The whole story of a siege is totally unfounded. There was never a shortage of fuel. There was never a shortage of food," he said.
As for the smuggling of weapons, Peres referenced an example of a stockpile discovered on September 12, 2005, that included 300,000 kg of dynamite, 20,000 weapons that included rockets, rifles, machine guns and pistols, and half a million kilograms of ammunition.
Although he has "never given up on peace," Peres sees no alternative to fighting terrorism.
"When you fight terrorism you can't have a victory characteristic of conventional war, because there is no uniform, no front, no army. The only way we have to stop terrorism is to hit terrorists hard."
While expressing the hope that Hamas had learned its lesson, Peres was well aware that it would take something more than Operation Cast Lead for the lesson to have long lasting effect.
"Now they want a cease-fire for one-and-a-half years," he said. "They want our agreement that after one-and-a-half years they can shoot again, and they want the right to bring in arms."
Declaring Hamas to be "the greatest Arab problem," Peres asserted that many Arab people know that their problem is not Israel but Hamas. "The President of Egypt came to the conclusion that Hamas is a danger to Egypt and the Arab world," he said, charging Hamas with bringing shame to the Arab people and to Islam.
Peres welcomed the appointment of George Mitchell as the new US Middle East envoy, saying it was timely and that "there is no reason to postpone anything."
Quoting media reports that America will put pressure on Israel, Peres was faintly amused. Making peace, fighting terror, having a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel and finding solutions to the economic meltdown are all issues on which Israel and the US are in accord, he said.
"What pressure can America place on us?" he asked. "Where is the contradiction?"
Peres remained confident that a peace agreement with the Palestinians was still possible, saying, "The problems are bridgeable."
For all that, Peres made it clear that if Hamas resumes its attacks on Israel, there will be a severe, hard-hitting response. While Israel is willing to pay a price for peace, he said, "We are a moral country under attack. We fight to fulfill an historic mission."
To a question from a British delegate about Israel's vilification in Parliament and demands for an international inquiry into Israel's conduct during Operation Cast Lead, Peres retorted that there was no Geneva convention on terrorism, and asked if there was a Geneva convention that permits the firing of 90 missiles a day without discrimination.
"Is there a convention that a nation under threat cannot defend itself?" he asked.
Peres lambasted those who would judge Israel without knowing all the facts, and asked where they were when Israelis were being killed in bus explosions, saying, "Did they ever demonstrate? Did they say a word? Is our blood less meaningful?"
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