"I'll continue to function as prime minister; there are those who believe that the launching of any investigation demands a resignation, but I don't adhere to this notion and I will not step down," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday evening, during a meeting with the heads of communities and towns located near Gaza.
Earlier, Olmert discussed Morris Talansky's deposition with a senior Kadima Party member. "It is inconceivable that a prime minister will be condemned based on a single testimony," Olmert said, adding that he will issue a statement in the next few days. "I have plenty to say and I've kept quiet because of the investigation… I will not do anything to harm the party," he added.
A senior Kadima official said Wednesday that should Olmert choose to step down form the party's leadership, he will have to enable it to hold primaries and elect a new leader first. The move, said the source, will assure the succession of leadership, which in turn would allow Kadima to remain government leader.
During the meeting in the south – which was attended, among others, by Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal, Ashkelon Mayor Roni Mahatzri and Eshkol Regional Council head Alon Schuster; and focused mainly on the incessant Qassam rocket fire emanating from the Strip – Olmert said "we are nearing a decision (on how to act against the attacks) and we will find a solution, which will be either peaceful or involve military action; but in any case we are very close to making a decision, the details of which I cannot reveal."
The prime minister told those on hand that while he would like to reach a ceasefire agreement with the terror groups in Gaza, he fears such a development would embolden Hamas. "I understand your situation and I realize that the residents who are forced to live under this continuous threat are brave and strong," the PM said.
"We will not accept the fact that Gazans go about their lives when the children in Sderot and Ashkelon are afraid to leave the house."
Mayor Mahatzri complained to Olmert that a senior Defense Ministry official told him that the "Iron Dome" rocket-intercepting system would become operational only in 2010 and that the Home Front Command is not offering any interim solutions.
"I feel as though I don’t have any more answers for the residents of Ashkelon," he said.
Sderot Mayor Moyal said following the meeting that "the prime minister understands that a decision must be made and he sounded decisive. He told us that he was waiting for the talks with the Egyptians, but is clear to us that the direction is a military operation.
The council heads demanded that the State immediately fortify their communities.
Roni Sofer contributed to the report