Olmert, however, okays limited operations in response to Kassam attacks.
By YAAKOV KATZ, MARK WEISS
While granting the IDF the green light to step up pinpointed strikes against the Kassam rocket infrastructure, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided on Wednesday to hold back from launching a large-scale military operation into the Gaza Strip in response to Tuesday's Kassam rocket barrage on the western Negev.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said Israel "will not hesitate from taking harsh steps against those who try to attack its sovereignty by firing rockets, by attempting to attack soldiers and by other methods."
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The statement warned that Israel takes a very grave view of the Hamas terrorist acts perpetrated over recent weeks. "Israel didn't need any [additional] proof that Hamas is a terrorist organization that has never abandoned the path of terror," the statement said.
While the possibility of a widespread operation was rejected, Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz decided to permit the IDF to escalate its operations against Kassam rocket cells in Gaza.
"We have no intention of ignoring what happened," Peretz said. "It needs to be clear that a political identity - such as the Hamas government or the Palestinian national unity government - will disguise and provide legitimacy for attacks against Israeli citizens."
On Tuesday, the Hamas military wing claimed responsibility for the firing of over 30 Kassam rockets and mortar shells at the western Negev, saying they were in response to the IDF's killing of nine Palestinians in Gaza over the weekend.
The IDF announced its suspicions that the rocket barrage had been a cover for an attempt by Hamas to kidnap IDF soldiers deployed along the Gaza border.
Wednesday's security consultation at Olmert's office was attended by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant and Military Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin.
Defense officials said that everyone, except for Galant, agreed to hold off on launching a widespread operation in Gaza. Galant has been asking for the green light for such an operation for several months because he believes that, if not dealt with, the IDF will soon face a Hamas army just as strong as Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Diskin said that it was preferable to give diplomatic efforts and the dialogue with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a chance to stop the rocket attacks.
Israel accused Hamas of trying to simultaneously sow terror and reap the diplomatic benefits of participating in the Palestinian unity government.
An official noted that Israel had recently scored diplomatic successes in explaining the true nature of the Hamas-led government and showing the world that Hamas was encouraging terrorism. Officials feared that a hasty response to Tuesday's attacks might undermine these diplomatic successes.
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