Vilna'i slams Peretz's decision on Gaza

MoD readies plan to target Hamas leaders for role in Kassam attacks.

kassam drill 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
kassam drill 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Labor MK Matan Vilna'i said Monday that he objected to the decision of Defense Minister Amir Peretz not to respond to recent Kassam fire on the western Negev and Sderot with artillery attacks. Vilna'i published a statement in which he argued that the IDF should enter the Gaza Strip and take over key strategic areas.
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Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, also speaking Monday, said that the decision to stop IDF shelling of Kassam rocket launch sites could be seen as weakness by the various Palestinian terror organizations. "They need to know that if [we] don't have quiet, they won't either," Netanyahu told Army Radio. Netanyahu said that when he served as prime minister, he insisted that the IAF respond to Katyusha fire along the northern border with "massive shelling." "I think we did that without hurting civilians," he concluded. Despite the barrage of more than 30 Kassam rockets on the western Negev on Sunday, Peretz rejected an IDF recommendation to immediately escalate its offensive on the Gaza Strip by targeting Hamas officials. Peretz did, however, instruct the IDF to finalize plans for an operation that he said would include the targeted killing of everyone involved in Kassam attacks, not just the ones who launch the rockets. During a consultation with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin and OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy, Peretz said he preferred to give Hamas a chance to rein in its operatives before launching the operation. If Hamas failed to independently stop the Kassam fire, Peretz said he would give the green light for the targeted killings. "We have many options and sufficient means and we will use them against everyone involved in the attacks," Peretz told reporters after visiting Sderot resident Yonatan "Nati" Angel, a "personal friend," who was in critical condition in Ashkelon's Barzilai Hospital after he suffered severe shrapnel wounds to his abdomen during the early morning barrage. Two additional residents of Sderot were lightly wounded during attacks later in the day. "No organization, no status will serve as cover for any source that is involved in planning or carrying out shooting attacks," Peretz added. Defense officials close to Peretz said that while his decision to hold off on launching a military operation might not be popular, it was the responsible move. The officials refused to set a date for when Peretz's ultimatum to Hamas would expire. "We need to demonstrate patience and responsibility," one official in Peretz's office said. "There will always be an opportunity later to escalate the situation." Military officers accepted Peretz's decision but said the time would come when it would be necessary to step up the strikes against the Kassam launch cells. In addition, some officers blamed Peretz's decision to suspend artillery fire on the Gaza Strip as one of the reasons for the increase in the number of Kassam attacks. On Saturday, Peretz ordered the IDF to suspend all artillery attacks until the completion of its probe into the source of an explosion which killed seven innocent Palestinians on a Gaza beach on Friday. One possibility being explored was that the explosion was caused by an off-target artillery shell. Without the artillery option, the bulk of the IDF's response was carried out by IAF missile strikes. Early in the day, two Hamas operatives were killed when a missile struck them as they were preparing to launch a Kassam rocket. Hours later, the IAF fired at a car in Gaza City but missed the target, a wanted Hamas operative, who succeeded in escaping seconds before it was hit. Meanwhile, both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Peretz indicated that Friday's blast on a Gaza Strip beach may have been caused by the Palestinians, not the IDF. Peretz told the weekly cabinet meeting that he had established an investigative committee, headed by a major-general, which is to present its findings on Tuesday. Peretz said the committee's preliminary findings showed that a shell launched by either the army or the air force did not kill the family. Peretz said that of six artillery shells fired by the IDF, one was unaccounted for, but that there was a gap between when these shells were fired, and the time the Palestinians said the shells hit. He told the cabinet that over the last 24 hours Hamas has openly engaged in terrorism by firing rockets, and that for a few days before that it was involved in rocket fire, both directly and indirectly. "I stress in the clearest way possible that we will act against all those engaged in terrorism, including Hamas, with all the means at our disposal," he said. Olmert opened up the cabinet meeting by saying that Israel expressed "deep regret" over the incident, and that "of course, the exact details and the conclusions of the inquiry will be made public." While stressing that he was not apologizing because the facts of the incident were not yet clear, he said past experience had shown that myths could be created that were divorced from the facts. He was referring to Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old boy killed during an exchange of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinians on September 30, 2000. The images of Dura hiding behind his father and then being shot and killed were beamed across the world, with Israel widely blamed for his death until researchers three years later brought ballistic evidence showing that the shots could not have been fired by soldiers. Regarding Friday's incident, Olmert said it must be made clear that Kassam rockets - designed to maim and kill Israelis - have been fired continuously over the last few weeks. "This firing is very serious," he said. "It strikes at the fabric of life in communities in southern Israel and threatens peoples' lives. This is an unending series of terrorist attacks designed to strike at civilians."