Olmert: IDF will halt ops if Hamas does

Rice: ME peace talks will resume; Abbas: Palestinians to return to talks despite Gaza situation.

Rice livni jlem 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rice livni jlem 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made clear Wednesday, a day after he met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that quiet in Sderot would bring quiet in Gaza - a clear indication that the current IDF operations are not intended to topple Hamas. "Our forces are not operating because we want to, but because we have to," Olmert said at Wednesday's security cabinet meeting, called to define Israel's goals in the Gaza Strip. "If they stop shooting at our civilian population, we would not have to respond." Meanwhile, the focus of efforts to bring about quiet in the South moved to Egypt, as Rice dispatched Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch to Cairo, in what officials in Jerusalem said was an attempt to cobble together a package that would include intensified Egyptian actions against arms smuggling, a Palestinian Authority presence at the Rafah border crossing between Sinai and Gaza and increased Israeli and Egyptian humanitarian aid into the Strip. Rice announced the Welch mission at a Jerusalem press conference she held after meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She said Welch, who was in her entourage, was returning to Cairo for "discussions with the Egyptians about how the situation can be improved, including how to deal with issues that we have been addressing for some time, like the tunnels which Hamas is using to smuggle goods and weaponry into Gaza." Rice said she had asked Welch "to look at the entire situation" in Gaza. "That means security issues, it means humanitarian issues, it means trying to do something about the tunnels which continue to be a problem." Acknowledging that Israel and Egypt had ongoing direct contacts, she said the US was not trying to "broker" anything. "It's just a matter of all parties discussing" the situation, Rice said. She also announced at the press conference that the Palestinians and Israelis would resume the negotiations that PA President Mahmoud Abbas suspended on Sunday because of the situation in Gaza. Those negotiations, which Abbas first said would not restart until after a cease-fire in Gaza, might resume as early as Thursday. Rice said that while Abbas would like to "see a calm," and had spoken publicly about a cease-fire, "this is not a condition for resumption of the talks." It was clear how a calm should come about, Rice said: "The rocket attacks against Israel ought to stop. And as I've said, as Israel defends itself, Israel also needs to be very careful about innocent people." Prior to meeting with Livni, Rice met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who - according to a statement issued by his office - said Israel was determined to end the Kassam attacks. "The government has an obligation to protect its citizens, and even though we are not eager for an extensive operation in Gaza, we will not flinch from it. My job as defense minister is to bring quiet to the citizens of the western Negev, and that is what I will do." Among those who took part in the talks between Barak and Rice was US Lt.-Gen. William Fraser, the man appointed to get both sides to fulfill their obligations under the road map peace plan. Rice announced that Fraser would be holding the first trilateral meeting on this matter next week. Meanwhile, the security cabinet broke little new ground in approving a set of goals that called for bringing an end to the rocket fire from Gaza. Somewhat similar resolutions were passed by the security cabinet on September 5, and then again on September 19. Following the meeting, during which the ministers heard a number of security briefings, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying Israel would "act continuously and systematically" to achieve the main goals, which included the following:
  • Bringing about the cessation of rocket fire and other terrorist actions from Gaza
  • Reducing the Hamas military buildup, including in coordination with Egypt
  • Advancing negotiations with the PA while maintaining freedom of action in the struggle against terrorism, and
  • Striking at the Hamas regime in Gaza. The statement from the Prime Minister's Office said IDF actions could include attacks against Kassam rocket launching areas, production and storage facilities, military and infrastructure targets, and Hamas institutions. The targets will be approved by Olmert, Barak and Livni. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz abstained in the voting on the resolution, reportedly demanding that the IDF embark on a large-scale operation to "crush" Hamas. Vice Premier Haim Ramon also reportedly abstained, claiming that the resolution was inadequate. Israel, he said, should declare a unilateral cease-fire, renew the normal supply of fuel and electricity to the Gaza Strip, and announce that in the case of a Kassam attack the IDF would open fire on the source of the fire, and cut off supplies. Barak reportedly agreed with Ramon's suggestion to fire at the source of rocket fire, a tactic whose legality is being discussed by the legal establishment. Olmert quipped that this was one of the first times in a long while that Ramon and Barak, fierce political rivals, had agreed on anything. According to a Channel 2 report Wednesday night, Barak is seeking legal approval to evacuate thousands of residents of Gaza City to locations in the south of the Strip to enable the IDF to attack terrorist infrastructure without hurting civilians.