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Vilnai: Israel nearing wide-scale Gaza op
Following mortar attack on IDF base which left eight soldiers injured, deputy defense minister says 'their provocations don't leave us with much choice'. Likud MK Erdan suggests moving Palestinian prisoners to unfortified detention facility in Gaza vicinity
Israel is nearing a wide-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Saturday, several hours after eight Israel Defense Forces soldiers were injured in a mortar shell attack on the Nahal Oz base in southern Israel.

 

"There's no doubt we're getting closer to a wide-scale operation in Gaza, but it will be different from what took place in the past," Vilnai said during an event in the southern city of Beersheba.

 

"The truce is important to us and to them, as we control the crossings and the other side is afraid of the IDF's strength. But we must find the right time for an operation. Their provocations are not leaving us with much choice."

 

The deputy defense minister rejected the possibility of evacuating the soldiers from the Nahal Oz base following the mortar attack, as the army did with the Zikim base last week. "We won't vacate every place," he said.


 

One of injured soldiers evacuated (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)

 

Addressing the negotiations with the Palestinians, Vilnai said, "Hamas is not a partner for a dialogue as long as it does not recognize us. The only vision we are facing at the moment is Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas), but the tragedy is that he's getting weaker.

 

"We must know that the only solution is reaching an understanding with the Palestinians. We must work with every element on the Palestinian side we can talk to, but in Gaza there's no one to talk to and the only language there is military power."

 

As for the Islamic terror and the combined terrorist attacks in Mumbai, the deputy minister said, "This is a troublesome phenomenon. India is the biggest democracy in the world. The problem is Islamic terror which hits the entire world, and we are not just talking about the conflict between Jews and Palestinians.

 

"The extreme religious terror must worry the entire free world. They want to damage all the signs of democracy we know."

 

Referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak's statement that Hizbullah has missiles which could reach Beersheba, Vilnai noted that he believes the Lebanese organization has missiles which could even reach the Negev desert town of Mitzpe Ramon.

 

As for the Labor Party's deterioration in recent public opinion polls, he said, "Barak asked me to head the election campaign and I agreed. The most talented person to lead the State of Israel is Barak. The only one similar to him is (Likud Chairman) Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

"I don't see the political map without Labor. We won't disappear, and gaining less than 10 Knesset seats would be a disaster for us."

 

MK Erdan: Time for creative solutions

Likud Knesset members also addressed the Nahal Oz mortar attack Saturday. MK Gilad Erdan even came up with an original solution, saying the defense minister must set up a temporary detention facility in the Gaza vicinity and jail Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners there.

 

Erdan demanded that the new facility won't be fortified. "It's time for Israel to initiate creative solutions and prove to the world that it's determined to do anything in order to stop the terror and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

 

"If they don't work to stop the fire, they should take into account that the rockets may hurt their men as well. When the government fails to fortify the south's residents, there's no reason to protect terrorists jailed in Israel," he added.

 

MK Yuval Steinitz blamed the government for the deterioration in the security situation in southern Israel.

 

"The Olmert-Livni government's security failure in the face of Gaza turns pale compared to the Second Lebanon War failure," he said. "We missed the opportunity to stop the Hizbullah missile and terror threat in the north, but in the south we enabled the formation of Hizbullah 2 in the heart of the Negev.

 

"The government we'll build after the elections will have to give Gaza an in-depth treatment which will halt the ongoing security deterioration in the south," he said.

 

Amnon Meranda contributed to this report

 

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