PM rebuffs Barak's criticism on Gaza

Olmert says outside considerations won't delay cease-fire decision, Schalit inseparable from truce.

No outside considerations will delay a decision on a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday, referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak's statement Friday that if the government were not conducting the state's affairs in the shadow of a Kadima primary, the decision on a Gaza truce would have been made long ago. During the regular weekly cabinet meeting, Olmert said it would be better if the Gaza violence could be stopped through a truce, but "if, unfortunately, the situation on the ground proves that there is no cessation of terrorism, then the government will know how to stop it by other means." "Nothing else and no other considerations, including political, will delay this decision," he said. "Comments made on the subject were unnecessary and pointless. On a daily basis I am making decisions as prime minister. I am not afraid." The Jerusalem Post first reported on June 5 that Barak said privately that Olmert's legal and political troubles had been holding up the implementation of a cease-fire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Barak reportedly said the investigation into Olmert's financial dealings with New York businessman Morris Talansky and the ensuing political instability had sent the government into "semi-paralysis," making it difficult to reach decisions on security and diplomatic issues. The fight between Olmert and Barak escalated when the latter made the same comments publicly on Friday at a convention of Labor branch secretaries at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters. Barak said that if Olmert wasn't running the country in the shadow of a Kadima primary, the decision on a Gaza truce would have been made long ago. "This government is incapable of making a decision about Hamas, the Syrians, Lebanon, Iran and the US," Barak said. "There is a shadow of primaries. All cabinet discussions are in effect discussions with the media." Vice Premier Haim Ramon of Kadima attacked Barak in an interview to Channel 2 on Saturday, saying it was Barak who was acting out of political motivations in an effort to bring down the prime minister. "It is audacious and arrogant" for Barak to say what he did, Ramon said. "He himself says that a Gaza operation is unavoidable." Ramon said Barak had been blocking Olmert from ordering an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip. "He [Barak] wants to appear as though he is conducting negotiations for a cease-fire, but says an operation is unavoidable," he said. Kadima MK Shai Hermesh, a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, just east of the northern Gaza Strip, blamed Barak for the continuation of the rocket and mortar fire that killed his neighbor Jimmy Kedoshim on May 9. "The reason there are still rocket attacks has nothing to do with Talansky," Hermesh said. "It is because of Ehud Barak's cynical political maneuvering to bring about an unnecessary election at such a complicated and dangerous time. In doing so he has paralyzed the defense establishment and prevented necessary action from being taken." Matt Zalen and Itamar Sharon contributed to this report.