Following the arrests of Hamas ministers and parliament members on Thursday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said during Sunday's cabinet meeting: "I do not promise that the arrests of Hamas leaders will only be limited to the West Bank area.
According to Olmert, "in any case where there is factual for terror, arrests will be carried out. This is an acceptable criminal procedure. There is an aggressive involvement of parliament members in acts that directly cause terror, therefore no one will be immune. We will take any appropriate step against any person who goes near terror activities."
Referring to the Egyptian involvement in the negotiations to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the prime minister said: "I have great appreciation for the efforts exerted by Mubarak day and night. He is looking for every way to solve the crisis, and not out of a neutral stance, but out of complete willingness and readiness to release the soldier unconditionally. We greatly appreciate it."
Addressing the ultimatum set by Hamas, and the conditioning of releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier, Olmert said that there will be no negotiations to release Palestinian prisoners.
According to the prime minister, "also in the future we must not negotiate on this issue and must not give in to an ultimatum set by a murder organization, absolutely not. Everyone knows that once you release prisoners, it’s a platform that allows the kidnapping of soldiers."
Referring to the ongoing Qassam fire at the western Negev, the prime minister expressed his solidarity with the residents of Sderot, Ashkelon and the western Negev.
"We cannot accept a situation in which southern communities live under the most horrible fear of the Qassam fire. Thousands of residents in the south are living in fear and inconvenience, so I have instructed that in the meantime, no one will sleep in Gaza as well," he stated.
Olmert also stressed that Israel has completely left Gaza and that any operation of entering the Strip beyond the border is only aimed at hitting terror cells.
"We entered for a concrete goal and in order to release the kidnapped soldier and eliminate terror. An incident in which two soldiers were killed, a third soldier was injured and another soldier was kidnapped must be harshly retaliated, and there is no argument about this. Our goal is to release Shalit and halt the Qassam fire," the prime minister told his ministers.
Peretz: We'll step up Gaza operations
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said during Sunday's cabinet meeting that "future operations will be based on stepping up the quality of our targets."
Peretz, who briefed the ministers on Operation Summer Rains, expressed cautious optimism regarding developments on the Egyptian channel to release kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
The defense minister briefed the ministers on the developments on the issue of returning kidnapped solder Gilad Shalit, and at the same time leading to a change in the level of Qassam threat on the western Negev.
"Combining between military and diplomatic operations, while preventing developments of humanitarian problems, is the right combination," he said.
Olmert and Livni during cabinet meeting (Photo: Reuters)
He noted that the operative plans against Hamas were nothing new.
"It was also on the agenda in the past due to Hamas' direct involvement in terror. This incident of kidnapping and killing our soldiers was preceded by at least three incidents which emphasized the need of taking actions against Hamas and strengthened our legitimacy as a country to operate against them," he said.
The defense minister added that Israel does not distinguish nowadays inside the different terror organizations between the leaders and the terror activists in the field.
"This is a decision that Israel has already made. Until now we have only signaled the ability to hit Hamas leaders everywhere," he said.
Peretz asked to stress that Israel is taking into consideration the humanitarian needs, and he has therefore instructed the army to allow the entry of commodities into the Strip. Peretz noted that Israel is refraining from hurting citizens as much as possible.
'Assad in denial'
A considerable part of the defense minister's briefing dealt with Syrian President Bashar Assad, "who is denying the fact that Khaled Mashaal is the main person pulling the strings."
Peretz updated the ministers on his talk with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the fact that he asked her that Syria be pressured by the international community.
Peretz enters cabinet meeting (Photo: Reuters)
Minister Peretz told the ministers that his office is in close contact with the kidnapped soldier's family.
"The family provides the defense establishment and the Israeli government with the ability to operate. I extremely appreciate and admire the Shalit family's behavior," he said.
Peretz stressed that he and the prime minister are working in full cooperation, explaining that that defense establishment thoroughly weighs every decision before taking any steps.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the ministers: "There is an understanding in the international community for the steps being taken by us to release the soldiers. On the other hand, we also aspire to prevent escalation, to prevent a humanitarian crisis and to maintain the chance for a diplomatic process."
"The Foreign Ministry aims to operate diplomatic leverages to free Corporal Gilad Shalit with the cooperation of the community and by creating a diplomatic umbrella for the IDF in its military operation," she said.
The foreign minister added: "We are preparing got every possibility, also for preparing the international community for a continuous operation beyond releasing the soldiers. We must convey a message to the international community that the confrontation today, despite its difficulties, may prevent a harsher confrontation in the future."
Minister Livni presented the ministers with a potential problem of presenting the Palestinian Authority crisis.
"We have formed a PR program aimed at accompanying Operation Summer Rains. Among other things, we have prepared for a public diplomacy campaign against the humanitarian crisis claim," she said.
The minister also referred to the prisoners' document.
"This is a very aggressive spin by Hamas. (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas has yet to agree to the new parameters in this agreement. One way or another, the document is a diplomatic 'non-starter,' which does not meet the conditions of the international community, both in Europe and in America," she said.
Also in the cabinet meeting, ttorney General Menachem Mazuz reviewed the legality of the arrest of senior Hamas ministers and parliament members.
"Their arrest is purely criminal and they will not be used as bargaining chips. Their arrest stems from their illegal activity. None of them is immune. Hamas activists of all ranks are being interrogated now and will be tried in the West Bank's military courts," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eliyahu Yishai called on the ministers to build a buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip, which would be "fully controlled by the IDF."
According to Yishai, "maintaining such a buffer zone, clear of Palestinian presence, will strengthen the IDF's deterrence ability."