Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday morning that Israel would work to restore the calm in the south of the country. "We are not eager to fight," Olmert said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, "but we do not fear a battle. In any event, we shall not tolerate the price tag the terror organizations are attempting to set.
"This weekend was marked by another round of violence between us and the terror regime in Gaza. The terror organizations have led to the collapse of the truce and have created a situation of ongoing violence, and are trying time after time to thwart the lull, whether in the tunnels or by firing Grad and Qassam missiles or by attempting to target IDF soldiers near the fence on the borderline between us and Gaza.
"We have operated and will continue to target those violating the truce," the prime minister stressed. "I know there is a lot of anger and the blood is boiling, but the government headed by myself has operated composedly, using judgment, has weighed the options and has made the decisions in the past, and this is what will happen this time as well."
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in response to the prime minister's remarks, "The side violating the truce time after time is the Israeli side operating on Palestinian territory and killing Palestinians from the air.
"The Israeli threats and the Israeli operations will not prevent Hamas and the other organizations from responding. We won't live in puddles of blood and with body remains while the Israelis enjoy the truce."
'IDF must present the options'
Before the meeting, Minister of Religious Affairs Yitzhak Cohen joined Shas Chairman Eli Yishai in criticizing the government's conduct in terms of the escalation in the south. Cohen called on the ministers to cut the water and electricity supply to the Gaza Strip in response to every Qassam fired.
"It sounds terrible when the government fails to make decisions. I am part of the minority group which calls for an operation in Gaza. I don’t believe in the lull. We must operate intensively from the air against the tunnels, against the terror headquarters and against the strength accumulated by Hamas and then discuss Israel's policy."
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog said, on the other hand, that "we must separate security from politics and give credit to the defense establishment and to Defense Minister Ehud Barak for using judgment for the sake of Israel's security."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said during a Kadima ministers' meeting that "the truce is being violated – this is a fact. The problematic character of the ceasefire for the long-run was known, and therefore we set clear rules that would serve as our condition for an agreement – it will be calm on the Israeli side only if it's calm on the Palestinian side.
"If the smuggling stops and Hamas stops building its strength and the rocket fire stops, we won't act. But we have said that if they fire, Israel will respond immediately. As for the nature of the response, the army must present us with the options in order to determine the desired response in accordance with the reality on the ground," Livni added.
Two hours before the cabinet meeting, two Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, landing near a kibbutz in the Eshkol Regional Council. The Israel Air Force attacked a Qassam launching cell in response, killing four gunmen and injuring at least six.
Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees said that senior organization members were killed in the strike. "The occupation has harmed us and is killing our people, and we realize that the war has been reopened and that the enemy must prepare for a response," he added.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressed on Saturday that "the IDF is fully prepared for a strong operation that would be very painful for the other side, but two years ago we already witnessed what snap decisions can do to Israel's security," hinting at the Second Lebanon War.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon warned of Israel's poor hand on Wednesday night, saying the State was not responding appropriately to the continued Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip out of fear that ministers and Israel Defense Force officers will be accused of breaking international law when going abroad.
Meanwhile, the Likud asked for a special Knesset recess debate focusing on "the groveling of the Olmert-Livni-Barak government and the absence of a response to the attacks on Ashkelon, Sderot, and the western Negev."
Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar, chairman of the Likud faction, said that "the Kadima government has failed in defending Israeli citizens in the south, after failing in the north as well, and is currently eroding Israel's deterrence abilities while allowing Hamas to turn the truce into a one-sided ceasefire on Israel's part."
Amnon Meranda and Ali Waked contributed to this report