Olmert backs targeting terrorists

Apologizes for civilian deaths, emphasizes protecting Sderot citizens.

In spite of the fact that such tactics led this week to the death of innocent civilians in Gaza, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged on Thursday night to continue with his policy of targeted assassinations against Palestinian terrorists and anyone else who is involved in attempting to harm Israeli citizens. "I am sorry from the depths of my heart for the unintended deaths of innocent people in Gaza and Khan Younis. No one understands that kind of pain more than us," Olmert said as he spoke before the Caeserea Forum in Jerusalem. But, Olmert said, he had a responsibility to protect the citizens of southern Israel against rocket attacks from Palestinians in Gaza. "The lives and security of the citizens of Sderot are no less important to me, if not more important," Olmert said. Looking toward the future with hope, the prime minister said he was interested in "bringing about the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." In meeting with leaders in the United States, Britain and France Olmert said he pledged to them that he would leave no stone unturned in an attempt to secure a joint understanding with the Palestinians, so that both sides could advance toward a final agreement as laid out under the US-sponsored Road Map. But he clarified that he was only willing to hold these negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and not with the Hamas government which is wedded to terrorism. Only once it is proven that there is "no partner on the other side, will we take other steps without the Palestinians," to protect the Jewish and democratic nature of the state, Olmert said. He added that negotiations with the Palestinians would be conducted independently of Israeli efforts to fight terror and stop Palestinians from launching rockets from Gaza into southern Israel. In addressing the economic conference, Olmert said that "the Israeli economy is on the right track" and noted that its inflation was lower than in other countries. Proof of the country's economic stability can be seen in the fact that it is attracting investors from around the world. The international economic community is telling terrorism, "we are not afraid to invest in Israel." Still, Olmert said, "poverty in Israel worries me greatly." The best antidote to that poverty is to improve education particularly for children under the age of six. He also pledged to create a special national council for economics and welfare in his office, headed by Professor Emmanuel Trachtenberg from the Tel Aviv University. In the future, Olmert promised that Israel would continue its determined pursuit of security and economic prosperity. "We will continue to make Israel an open nation living securely in its own land, to develop an enlightened and a just society of culture and quality that absorbs immigrants and that knows to be just to all its citizens," Olmert said.