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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter made waves at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting when he urged the IDF to attack the northern Gaza Strip and turn Beit Hanun "into a ghost town" should the Palestinians continue to launch Kassam rockets from there.
Since Israel pulled out of Gaza last summer, close to 500 rockets have been fired into southern Israel. Early Sunday morning, two more were fired. One hit a greenhouse near Mivtahim. Last Wednesday, a Kassam hit an apartment building in Sderot near Defense Minister Amir Peretz's home. Luckily, no one was hurt.
"The Kassams have to be stopped, no matter what," Dichter said. He urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to authorize severe measures. "Just as the IDF responded harshly to Katyushas in the North, it should wield a strong hand against Kassams in the South," he said.
Last week, Israel destroyed most of Hizbullah's military positions along the northern border after it fired rockets into Israeli towns.
But Peretz, as well as Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, opposed Dichter's idea. "You can't compare the northern border to the southern one. The response in each case is based on the situation on the ground in each area," Peretz said.
He said that the IDF was responding appropriately to the Kassam threat and that it was important to avoid excessive violence. Peretz added that Israel had no intention of reoccupying Gaza and that to do so was "unrealistic."
A spokesman for Dichter later told The Jerusalem Post that he had been talking about an air strike and had not meant to imply that a ground invasion was necessary.
Livni called Dichter's remarks unacceptable. Those words inaccurately imply that there were solutions that the IDF was not implementing, she said, and "that's not the case."
Olmert supported Peretz despite the friction that has existed between them in the last month. "The defense minister is correct with respect to his attitudes toward fighting terror and with respect to the Kassam rockets," he said. "We have strong means in our arsenal, but sometimes international considerations limit their effectiveness. It's not worth harming civilians. We have gotten rid of our dream from childhood that Israel can do everything alone. These dreams do not exist anymore."
The cabinet was also briefed by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin and Brig.- Gen Yosef Kuperwasser, the IDF Intelligence Corps director of research, who ends his five years of service this week. The two discussed the fight within the Palestinian Authority regarding a referendum on a plan drawn up by top Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails calling for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem alongside Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing for a national referendum on the plan, over the objections of Hamas.
Dichter blasted the prisoners' document, stating that it was drawn up by murderers. Israel could never agree to the document, he said, because "it legitimizes the right of return for Palestinians, it speaks to the continuation of terror and calls for Jerusalem to be the capital of the Palestinian nation."
But Diskin said the document had value within internal PA politics. Abbas was hoping to word the referendum "as a tool to push Hamas into a corner," said Kuperwasser, by proving that voters' support for Hamas in the January elections was a statement of opposition to Fatah, rather than a vote of confidence in Hamas. He added that he didn't believe that PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal were interested in compromising with Israel.
Diskin recommended that Israel not take a stand on the substance of the agreement and instead refer to it as an internal PA matter.
Olmert concurred with Diskin and asked the ministers to refrain from commenting on the agreement. "Ministers do not have to comment on everything that happens in the PA; that is the media's role," he said. "The Palestinians should be able to take care of their own business."
The agreement is a "non-starter" for Israel, Olmert said. It cannot be the basis for future negotiations, which can only be based on the internationally recognized road map, he concluded.