MKs to army chief: Sderot was abandoned
Chief of Staff Dan Halutz says during Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting that operation ‘Blue Skies’ primarily aimed at providing solution to the Qassam fire directed at Ashkelon, not Sderot; Likud MK: Why not send tanks into northern Gaza as warning to Qassam launchers?
Operation “Blue Skies” is not providing a solution to the Qassam fire directed at Sderot, as it is aimed predominantly at defending Ashkelon, due to the close proximity of sensitive strategic facilities to the city, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Tuesday during a Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting.
Halutz said the decision to launch the operation was made following the recent Qassam attacks on Ashkelon, adding that the operation’s goal is to reduce high-trajectory fire, but it cannot stop it entirely.
MKs on hand criticized Halutz, claiming Sderot is being abandoned.
“Operation ‘Blue Skies’ offers a partial solution to the Qassam fire directed at Ashkelon, and no solution to Qassam attacks on Sderot,” committee chairman Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said.
“There will be no choice but to launch a ground operation to eradicate the Qassam rocket industries (in Gaza).
MK Ehud Yatom (Likud) asked the chief of staff, “Why not send tanks into northern Gaza as a warning (to the Qassam launchers). There are no Palestinian civilians there, so no one would be able to say that we are harming civilians. They are firing from there, so what are we waiting for.
“It was a mistake to leave the northern Gaza settlements Dugit, Ele Sinai and Nisanit, which served as a territorial continuation of Ashkelon” Yatom added.
“By uprooting these settlements we abandoned the factories in Ashkelon’s industrial area.”
'Don't evacuate Rajar'
Halutz also referred to the recent publications regarding an alleged planned Israeli withdrawal from the village of Rajar on the northern border.
"These are Israeli citizens for all intents and purposes. Contrary to the publications, the IDF's stance has been not to evacuate the village of Rajar," he said.
The chief of staff added that "this is a decision to be made by the political rank, but the IDF's stance is that in the short term it is preferable to leave the situation as it is and not to build a fence in the middle of the village, because it is not efficient."
According to Halutz, "we must continue to provide a military response in the area."
Halutz added that there are warnings of soldier abductions, not only in the northern border but also in southern Israel.
'A Hamas victory would be deep trouble'
Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin, who also spoke at the Knesset committee, warned against a possibility that Hamas will win the Palestinian Authority parliament elections.
"If Hamas gains a majority or a tie in the PA parliament elections, Israel will be in deep trouble," Diskin said at the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told Ynet following Monday night's Qassam barrage on the Negev that "if our message was not understood by the Palestinians, it is very possible that in the near future we will drop additional leaflets saying 'dear friends, evacuate this and that populated area because we are about to fire artillery.'"
Boim added that "our message to the Palestinians in the past few days was sharp and clear. We are operating and will continue to operate based on intelligence, as we did tonight when we hit the Jihad members in Jabalya."
"The aerial barrier is up and active. If I hear that Qassam launching groups are still hanging around the Beit Hanun area, then the PA is not doing what it is required to do. In such a situation, the Israeli citizen's security is left in the hands of the IDF," he said.
"If the PA does not prevent the firing of Qassams, we will do it. It's a matter of time until we move them away from the launching sites," he added.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon instructed Halutz on Monday to continue exerting pressure on the terror groups in the Gaza Strip and not to let go, while approving a series of operations throughout the day.
Sharon's aides said Tuesday morning that "the launching of Qassams tonight and this morning from the Gaza Strip only strengthens our outlook. We shall not allow the terror groups to continue launching Qassams under the custody of the PA anarchy."