Olmert resolute: Despite Kafr Kana, we press on

PM: Israel rarely hits civilians, but Hizbullah's whole intent is to hit the civilian population.

Israel will not scale down its military operations in Lebanon, despite the deaths of 57 people in Kafr Kana, Israeli leaders made clear Sunday. "I have no intention of requesting a change in the direction of the fighting, or in reducing the action of the security forces," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the cabinet Sunday. "We will not stop the battle despite the difficult situation this morning," he said. Olmert's comments came after he expressed the government's regret at the loss of civilian life in the village. "I, along with Israel and the IDF, express deep regret at the death of civilians in Kafr Kana," Olmert said. "There is nothing further from our intent than when we hit civilians." Olmert said that while hitting civilians is a rare occurrence and not Israel's aim, Hizbullah's whole intent when firing missiles is to hit the civilian population, and it is rare when it hits other targets. He told the cabinet that during his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Saturday night he said that the IDF needed 10 days to two weeks to finish the military operation. Defense Minister Amir Peretz told visiting Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema Sunday that Israel would continue its military operations "for at least another two weeks" in order to weaken Hizbullah and enable the arrival of an international force that would then be able to fulfill its mandate. Peretz said that the IDF's goal during this period was to maximize the damage to Hizbullah's capabilities and installations. Earlier in the day, Peretz also issued a statement expressing deep regret over the incident, the apparent result of an IAF missile strike, and calling it "a tragic incident that is the result of a war against Hizbullah, which is operating from civilian areas and knows full well that by so doing it is endangering lives." Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told D'Alema that it was critical for the international community to continue in its efforts to bring about a long-term stable resolution to the current crisis, and not be detracted by Sunday's incident, as painful as it was. She defined a stable resolution as the disarmament of Hizbullah and a fundamental change "in the strategic reality" in Lebanon. Olmert told the cabinet that that the Kafr Kana area had turned into the focal point of Katyusha rocket fire on Kiryat Shmona and the Hula Valley. He said that hundreds of Katyushas were fired from the area, and dozens from the village itself. He also said that Hizbullah placed its command centers and munitions dumps inside civilian buildings. According to Olmert, the IDF warned the citizens through leaflets "and other means" to leave the village, but that Hizbullah used pressure and threats to keep them from leaving. "There are elements that will seek to take advantage of this incident to preach morality to us," he said, "and I am sorry they will try to call into question Israel's morality. But I am not willing to take a risk regarding the security of hundreds of thousands of Israelis." Referring to comments made by Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who called for the introduction of ground troops into Lebanon, Olmert said that if this was done in the beginning of the war he would have been criticized for not taking adequate advantage of the country's air superiority. He hinted at the possibility that if the conclusion was reached that the air force had maximized its potential in Lebanon, then more ground troops would be introduced. But, he made clear, this would be done only after gaining approval from the cabinet. Peretz said the IDF had damaged Hizbullah's capabilities, and that Hizbullah was now firing smaller rockets that were increasingly falling into empty areas. He warned, however, of a Hizbullah "closing act" that could include missiles fired on central Israel. Military Intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said Hizbullah's long-range missile capacities had been damaged. He said the long-range missile launcher that fired missiles on Afula on Friday was destroyed within a short time after the missiles were launched. He said the reason Hizbullah head Hassan Nasrallah had not fired more long-range missiles could be either because Iran had not given the okay, or because of the fear that once the launchers were uncovered, they would be destroyed, and Hizbullah wanted to save them for another day. Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin said there was "peak motivation" in the territories to carry out terror attacks in Israel - drive-by shootings, suicide attacks or kidnappings - and that Hizbullah was urging this type of action. Diskin said that the conclusion of the fighting in Lebanon would have an impact on the terrorist organizations in the territories, and that it was important that Israel's achievements in Lebanon "are seen." Diskin said that cracks were appearing in the international community's economic boycott of Hamas, and that the EU has raised the sum of money it would channel into the territories from $250 million to $380m. Diskin also repeated what he has been saying for weeks, that Crpl. Gilad Shalit was alive and that Israel believed he was still being held in Gaza.