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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Photo: Flash 90
Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Photo: AP
PM: Responsible gov't not eager to fight
Cabinet discusses escalation in southern Israel amid plea from Gaza communities' heads to take swift action. Olmert assure ministers government 'will know which move to make and when'

The cabinet discussed the ongoing escalation in southern Israel on Sunday, following the lull's official end, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to call on the ministers to "calm down and act responsibly."

 

"We cannot accept the situation manifesting in Gaza. I've instructed the IDF and the defense establishment to offer contingencies as to what can be done. We are guided by the need for a successful operation," he told his fellow ministers.

 

"We feel the pain of Sderot's residents, who are faced with daily trials, but all the harsh criticism is uncalled for and damages our deterrence."

 

Olmert told the ministers that "a responsible government is never eager to battle, but nor does it shy away from it. We will take all necessary measures. Obviously, the ceasefire can only exist while it exists, not while there's nonstop fire.

 

"It is no secret that we were hesitant to accept the ceasefire. Naturally, we wanted for the terror and the weapons' smuggling to stop completely, and based on that we decided to embark on the lull," he said.

 

Commenting on several ministers' demand to launch an offensive in Gaza immediately, Olmert said that he was "aware that we are living in a (politically) sensitive time. I have no intention of competing with any rambling.

 

"I've discussed the situation with the defense and foreign ministers, the scenarios are clear and the government will know which move to take and when," he concluded.

 

Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter said Israel must plan contingencies for "the First Gaza War," with short-term objectives of halting rocket fire and long-term objectives of "disarming Hamas".

 

Dichter noted that during the period referred to as the ceasefire, over 300 rockets had been launched at Israeli communities, as well as the same number of mortar shells.

 

Yishai: Barak detached from public

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said at the start of the meeting that Defense Minister Barak is detached from the public.

 

"Barak should move his office to Sderot. If the rocket fire would be taking place in central Israel, the response would have been quick. The defense minister is failing to act, and the cabinet's decisions are not implemented," he added.


 

A Sderot building struck by Qassam (Photo: Reuters)

 

Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog said that a strike in Gaza is impending, adding that the "professional echelons will decide on the timing and I would suggest all the politicians stop their ramblings.

 

"Hamas is engaging in psychological warfare meant to make us all nervous and make the government take hasty steps which will only end up hurting us," he added.

 

National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer slammed Barak for becoming "the government and the public's punching bag," to which Olmert said "Barak is his own party's punching bag."

 

Vice Premier Haim Ramon commented on the criticism raised against the ministers' public statements on the situation, saying they had no other recourse "since the government cannot seem to make a clear decision on an operation in Gaza."

 

Minutes before convening, the prime minister and cabinet members received a plea from the heads of the western Negev communities to do everything necessary to stop the rocket fire on the area.

 

Nine Qassam rockets and a mortar shell were fired from northern Gaza on Sderot and the Gaza vicinity communities since the morning hours, resulting in one man suffering light injuries, another suffering shock and some property damage.

 

The Israel Air Force struck a rocket launcher in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun. The IDF said that the launcher was loaded and ready to fire

 

The Home Front Command instructed all the schools in the area to keep students inside during recess, as a precautionary measure. 

 

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