PM: No ceasefire talks with Hamas

Barak: Gaza operation "continuous"; however, Abbas says basis of truce has been worked out.

troops n. gaza 224.88 (photo credit: IDF [file])
troops n. gaza 224.88
(photo credit: IDF [file])
The IDF will continue striking at Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip identified as planning or perpetrating a terror attack against Israel, defense officials warned on Monday as the military curtailed its actions in light of a lull in Kassam rocket fire. "For now, if Hamas is not firing then we'll also restrain ourselves," a senior defense official said. "The moment, however, we spot them planning or perpetrating an attack, we will take action." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that the IDF continues to have "freedom of action" in the Gaza Strip. Speaking at a press conference after meeting visiting Czech President Mirek Topolanek, Olmert emphatically said that Israel was not negotiating a cease-fire with Hamas, and that no such agreement had been reached. "There are no negotiations, and there is no agreement," Olmert said. "I said a few days ago that if there were no Kassam or Grad rockets on Israel's citizens in the South, Israel would not have any reason to fire back." Despite Olmert's vehement denial, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said that the basis of a truce had indeed been worked out and that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were now seeking assurances they would not be the targets of IDF attacks. "I think the Israelis have agreed upon this, that this is the deal which we may hear about in the next few days," Abbas told reporters in Amman, after meeting King Abdullah II. Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated Olmert's denial of a truce agreement with Hamas and warned on Monday that while Israel appreciated the lull in violence, the IDF offensive against Gaza was far from over. "We should not complain about quiet days," Barak said. "The fighting will continue. Sometimes it will increase and sometimes decrease and we will hit them at the right place and at the right time." Olmert enumerated four conditions that would have to be met to stop Israeli military action in Gaza: an end to terrorist actions, an end to violence, a halt to arms smuggling and stopping the infiltration across the international border. A senior official in Olmert's office, meanwhile, made clear that Olmert - despite some reports Monday to the contrary - had not directed the IDF to stop military action in Gaza as a response to the relative lull in rocket attacks. Defense officials claimed however that orders were given to the IDF to restrain itself as much as possible in the coming days to see what results would come from Egypt's talks with Hamas. Olmert told reporters after the press conference that Egypt was not authorized to negotiate with Hamas in Israel's name. "We did not turn to them about this, and they have no mandate" to negotiate on Israel's behalf with Hamas, Olmert clarified. The prime minister said Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau who held talks Sunday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in Egypt, discussed "bilateral" issues such as the situation on the Philadelphi Corridor and stopping infiltration into Israel, and not a cease-fire with Hamas. Defense officials said that Gilad spoke to Suleiman about Egyptian deployment along the border with Gaza and the current work being done there to rebuild the border wall that Hamas destroyed last month. Defense officials said that Gilad did not discuss the possibility of a cease-fire with the Egyptians. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, currently on a trip to the US, said in a meeting with Middle East analysts and researchers in Washington Monday that Israel could not accept a situation where Hamas would build itself up militarily and decide when to shoot and when to stop shooting. "The problem of arms smuggling needs to be dealt with, and we must not neglect it," she said. Turning to Iran, Livni said that while the world has reached an understanding that it cannot allow a nuclear Iran, it has not made clear to Iran the price it will have to pay if it continues down that path. "In the Middle East hesitation is viewed as weakness," she said. "The countries in the region are testing the behavior of the international community. Iran can turn into a dangerous regional and world actor even before it gets the bomb if the Arab and Islamic world thinks the Western world has thrown up its hands in dealing with Iran's nuclear efforts." staff contributed to this report.