World's patience may run short on Gaza [pg. 4]

Israeli diplomatic officials expressed concern Thursday that the world's reaction to the IDF incursion into northern Gaza, considered relatively mild, would get much more critical as the operation wears on. One official noted that Washington was dispatching top envoys Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser, and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, next Thursday and that the intervening six days could well be the window of opportunity the US was giving Israel to achieve its aims before pressing for a withdrawal. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Israel at a Washington press conference Wednesday to "exercise restraint," but added, "I would note that there were enormous numbers of Kassam rockets that were falling on Israeli territory yesterday, and so it would also be incumbent and helpful if there is pressure on Hamas to stop those attacks." Hamas, she said, "needs to respond to the root cause of this problem, and the root cause of this problem was the attack that took place and the Israeli soldier that was abducted. It is high time for Hamas to return that soldier. It is high time, then, for everybody who has any influence on Hamas to make sure that that happens." US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who was also scheduled to arrive next Thursday, has canceled his trip amid speculation that he didn't want to be here while Israel was managing this crisis. Foreign Ministry officials said that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni did not receive urgent calls from her counterparts abroad asking Israel to stop the operation. Livni held a videoconference Thursday with Israel's ambassadors abroad to hear about the diplomatic efforts taking place in various capitals. Ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman said that the "diplomatic umbrella" for the IDF action was holding. He added, however, that there were several issues of concern for the international community: • That the operation was a form of collective punishment • That Israel was using excessive force • That there was a severe deterioration in the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. Livni told the ambassadors to stress in their capitals that the goal of the operation was twofold: to free Shalit and to push the Kassam rockets out of the range of Israeli cities. She called on the ambassadors to stress that the action was being taken in the context of the disengagement from Gaza and Israel's expectation that the Palestinians would then run their own affairs. She also said it was necessary to stress that the catalyst for the action was the attack at Kerem Shalom, which took place on sovereign Israeli territory. The Kassam attacks on Ashkelon, Livni added, reinforced the legitimacy of the Israeli response. She said it should be stressed that Israel's attack on the roads and bridges in Gaza was not intended to punish the Palestinians but rather to keep Shalit's captors from smuggling him out of Gaza. Israel has come under a great deal of criticism in recent days for causing damage to PA infrastructure. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev summed up the world's reaction, saying that, while there had been criticism, "the majority of the reaction has been balanced, with an understanding for Israel's position." He said that Israel benefited from showing restraint during the initial days following Shalit's abduction. "I think this was appreciated, and I also think that everyone in the international community talking to the Palestinian Authority and trying to win Shalit's release is equally frustrated." That Hamas had no international support, Regev continued, coupled with Israel's withdrawal from Gaza last summer led to more balanced reactions than in the past.