'IDF could conquer Gaza if so ordered'

Military sources: Army preparing for wide-range of scenarios; cabinet to convene on Gaza situation.

idf tank 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
idf tank 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF is preparing for a wide-range of scenarios in the Gaza Strip, pending government instructions, military sources said Saturday. "We have operational plans ranging from conquering the Gaza Strip to pinpoint raids against rocket squads," one officer said. "However, we will ultimately do what we are told to do." The cabinet is expected to discuss the situation in the South at its weekly meeting on Sunday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said Saturday night that the situation was "simply unsustainable." "It is clear that if it is not possible to stop the Kassam rockets by one way, then another way will be found," he said. "Israel preferred a successful 'calm,' and we were willing to abide by the understandings reached through Egypt. But both Hamas's declarations and behavior have demonstrated clearly that they have no interest in calm, and as such they are just bringing pain and suffering to the populations of both southern Israel and the Gaza Strip." Also Saturday, a boat carrying a Qatari delegation, Lebanese activists and journalists from Israel and Lebanon sailed into Gaza City's small port from Cyprus in defiance of the Israeli blockade. It was the fifth such boat trip since the summer. The two Qatari citizens aboard the Dignity are from the government-funded Qatar Authority for Charitable Activities. "We are here to represent the Qatar government and people," said delegation member Aed al-Kahtani. "We will look into the needs of our brothers in Gaza, and find out what is the most appropriate way to bring in [aid]." Also on board were reporter Shlomi Eldar of Israel's Channel 10, Lebanese reporter Katya Nasser from Al-Jazeera, and another Lebanese citizen. Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said over the weekend that they want a new party to replace Egypt and mediate between the Islamist movement and Israel on a renewal of the cease-fire. The statements came shortly after Cairo announced it had resumed efforts to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to the extension of the truce. Relations between Hamas and Egypt have been strained ever since the movement boycotted a conference in Cairo meant to resolve the crisis between Hamas and Fatah. The conference, which was supposed to be held in early November, was called off at the last minute. Hamas is also angry with the Egyptians because of their refusal to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Sinai. Hamas supporters demonstrated in front of the Egyptian Representative Office in Gaza City on Saturday in protest of the continued closure. "We don't rule out the possibility of renewing the tahadiyeh [calm] with Israel, but we don't trust the Egyptians because they're not honest brokers," a top Hamas official in Gaza City said. "We want a decent mediator and we don't mind if they are from Europe." Another Hamas official claimed the Egyptians were biased in favor of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel. "The Egyptian government does not care about the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip," he said. "They only care about the interests of Abbas and Israel. As such, we don't have much faith in them." The official pointed out that the Egyptians had also failed in their attempts to arrange a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. He said Cairo's "arrogance and refusal to reopen the Rafah border crossing" was one of the reasons why kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit was still in captivity. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Israel and the US of deliberately sabotaging the cease-fire in an attempt to bring down the Hamas government in Gaza. He also lashed out at the Arab countries for failing to sound their voice against the continued blockade of the Strip. In Cairo, the spokesman for the Egyptian foreign minister, Husam Zaki, confirmed that his government had resumed efforts to broker a new agreement between Hamas and Israel. Cairo was pressuring Israel to refrain from launching a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip, he said. The spokesman added that his country would not reopen the Rafah border crossing unless the Palestinian terminal was controlled by forces loyal to Abbas. He blamed Israel for the latest escalation because of its "inhuman and brutal blockade and closure of the border crossings." Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report.