Ashkenazi: 'Difficult times' await us

Olmert tells Peres recent strikes first in series of stages; president says rocket fire "defies logic."

survey gaza (photo credit: )
survey gaza
(photo credit: )
"Difficult times are awaiting us; I am sure we will overcome them as well," IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said on the fourth day of Operation Cast Lead. Speaking at a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon with President Shimon Peres, Ashkenazi praised the IDF and security forces participating in Operation Cast Lead, which he said was aimed at "creating a better reality for the residents of southern Israel." He also thanked the general Israeli public for supporting the operation, and expressed his appreciation of Israel's southern residents, who are "living under constant threat" and providing important support to the operation, "which extends our endurance." Ashkenazi said he was "very pleased with the operation at this point." Earlier Tuesday afternoon during a tour of Ashkelon, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that military action against Hamas would continue until all the goals are met. Barak said that the operation would intensify "as much as needed to meet the goals we set for ourselves; to bring quiet to the South." The operation also aims "to strike a severe blow to Hamas," he said, "in order to bring about an end to firing and other operations against Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers." "We expect more difficult days ahead which will test civilians' endurance," he continued. On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met President Shimon Peres at the President's Residence in Jerusalem and updated him on recent developments. The prime minister said that the military action in Gaza over the past few days was the "first stage out of a series of measures that the cabinet has approved." Peres emphasized that Israel was not fighting against the Palestinian population but rather against a terror group that had "raised the banner of violence and undermined stability in the region." "There is no one in the world that understands why Hamas is continuing to fire rockets at Israel," he continued. "The firing defies reason and logic, and it doesn't stand a chance." The two met as Israel let some 100 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from Jordan, Turkey and international aid groups into the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom border crossing. In addition, five new ambulances given by Turkey were allowed into the Strip. Overnight Monday, Olmert instructed the IDF to press ahead with the Gaza operation and not to set a time limit for its goals. Following consultations at his home with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other heads of the security establishment, Olmert stressed that Israel would strike Hamas with an "iron fist" but would treat Gaza civilians with "kid gloves" in its humanitarian effort. During the meeting, security officials said that the IDF had given telephone warnings to some 90,000 Gazans living near Hamas facilities targeted by the IAF. They stressed that the sites were only bombed after civilians had left their homes. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin said that Hamas leaders, including its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, had gone into hiding, much to the chagrin of Gaza residents. He also said there was a degree of satisfaction among Gaza civilians over the IDF operation against the terror group. It was further stated that there was no extreme international pressure on Israel, and that world leaders had appreciated the restraint in the lead-up to the operation and were now demonstrating understanding for the military action. The officials said that Hamas had already started pressing countries and international organizations in a bid for a cease-fire.