Defense minister rejects Hamas talks

Says large-scale Gaza invasion too early; supports compensating settlers who leave voluntarily.

Barak intense 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak intense 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday said it is time to "kill those who carry out attacks" against Israelis, but said he was holding off on a wide scale invasion of the Gaza Strip for now. Barak also rejected calls from some members of his Labor Party to talk to Gaza's Hamas rulers, telling Army Radio that Israeli troops had killed 27 Gaza terrorists in the past 10 days and would continue to aggressively chase down those operating under Hamas's watch. "I do not agree with the assessment that the time has come to talk to the Hamas. Now is the time to kill those who carry out attacks and those firing Kassam [rockets] and mortars," Barak said. Three mortar shells were fired into Israel early Tuesday afternoon causing no casualties. On Tuesday morning, an IAF air strike on a Hamas training base in central Gaza killed three terrorist and wounded a fourth, Hamas and Palestinian medical officials said. The army confirmed the attack. Barak, a former military chief, has repeatedly hinted that Israel was on the verge of invading Gaza to stop the nearly daily rocket fire at towns in southern Israel. Analysts have speculated that Barak wanted to wait until the conclusion of last week's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. But when asked about the army's plans, Barak ruled out an immediate broad operation. "The moment has not arrived yet and I hope that it does not arrive, but it is true that we are preparing and need to prepare for a wide range of possibilities," he said. "Every day that passes we get closer to a wide scale operation in Gaza but we are not eager for it." With frustration mounting, a number of Israeli officials and retired generals, including some within Barak's centrist Labor party, have called recently for Israel to negotiate directly with Hamas. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, like Barak, rejects dialogue with Hamas, which Israel and the US consider a terrorist group. Hamas officials said the calls for dialogue were not serious. "Israel is practicing a series of crimes and continuous escalation against our people," said Taher Nunu, Hamas government spokesman in Gaza. In the interview, Barak said he supports a proposal offering compensation to Jewish settlers beyond Israel's security barrier in the West Bank who leave their homes voluntarily. The contentious barrier is meant to enclose main settlement blocs Israel plans to retain in a final peace agreement, where two-thirds of the settlers live. The others, about 80,000, could claim compensation if they leave. "We are not dragging anyone out of their home, but a fair country gives the option to its citizens to make a decision about their fate," he said. "This is the basic relationship between a country and its citizens." An official in the prime minister's office said Olmert was considering the proposal. staff contributed to this report.