Israel does not bear moral responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Beit Hanun, although it will assume full military responsibility, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh told The Jerusalem Post.
"The moral responsibility is entirely on Hamas and Islamic Jihad," Sneh said. "We left [the area] entirely, not leaving behind one soldier, and they turned Gaza, especially Beit Hanun, into a launching pad for rockets on our civilians, cynically using their civilian population as a human shield for their terrorist activity. This is a responsibility they cannot evade."
He said that he was awaiting the results of the military inquiry before making a final evaluation, but that it was not unheard of for a shell to go awry.
"It's most probably our mistake and I am sincerely sad about it," he said. "We are genuinely trying to do something to help the victims."
Sneh, who became deputy defense minister two weeks ago, stressed that Israel could not change the reality in Gaza by military means alone. Among the changes he hoped to encourage in the Gaza Strip was increased economic growth. Echoing the words of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Sneh said that the IDF was hoping to keep the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel open for longer periods of time and avoid closing them altogether when possible.
"The dominance of Hamas in Gaza is due to the poor conditions there," Sneh said. "Hamas thrives in an atmosphere of hunger and despair, and we should change it by improving conditions in Gaza. It's in our interest to change it."
Sneh said he probably speaks with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas more than any other Israeli, and that he was convinced that he was interested in becoming a partner for peace.
Six months ago, when Sneh appeared poised to become Peretz's deputy, the Post interviewed him about the objectives of the new Olmert government. At that time, he stressed the evacuation of the illegal outposts and the realignment plan as the chief concerns for the defense minister.
Following the war in Lebanon, however, Sneh acknowledged that the objectives had changed. Defining the national goals, he listed preparing the IDF for a victory in the next round with Iran and its proxies, promoting a possible agreement with the Palestinians and reviving the welfare state.
The full interview with Sneh will run in Friday's Jerusalem Post.