Prime Minister Ehud Olmert returned from his 80-hour visit to the US Friday morning, during which he met with US President George W. Bush and other senior government officials. Upon landing, Olmert recounted his meetings and said, "Israel is close to a decision on the issue of Gaza."
When asked about the ongoing investigation against him, Olmert said, "In due time I will discuss my political future."
On Thursday evening, moments before lifting off the tarmac in Washington en route back to Israel, Olmert old reporters that "Israel is close to launching an operation in Gaza".
The prime minister said he sees eye to eye with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the latter's assessment of the probable necessity at hand to launch a wide-scale counterterrorism operation in the Gaza Strip.
"We're nearing a crossroads in Gaza, both in terms of setting a timetable and the exacerbation of the problem," said the prime minister. During a tour of the kibbutz factory hit by a Hamas mortar barrage earlier in the day, Barak said such a military operation would likely precede any ceasefire agreement with Palestinian terror groups.
"There's a genuine problem here, one that I have spoken at great lengths about during my visit here," said Olmert. "We aren't gung-ho about a possible military operation, but we certainly are not afraid of one.
"This isn't a question of mediation efforts opposite Hamas. There are negotiations, via mediators, but there are also discussions with the Egyptians on the stipulations without which Israel will not commit to certain clauses," he said.
"Military action is closer than even, it appears likely there will be an operation prior to the calm (truce)," Barak said in the afternoon as he met with municipal leaders of Gaza-vicinity communities under constant bombardment.
Chairman of the Sha'ar HaNegev Regional Council, Alon Shuster, said Barak had been evasive when asked by those present at the site to provide a more detailed timetable and declined to provide a clearer picture.
"It was evident from what he said that a military strike won't be long in the making and the 'calm' is off the table. The fact that we've lost quite a few people here in recent times has probably also had an effect," said Shuster.
Gillerman to UN: Israel will defend itself
Meanwhile United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement condemning "the ongoing rocket and mortar attacks by militant groups, including Hamas, from Gaza against crossing points and Israeli civilian targets, which caused the death of an Israeli civilian and four casualties today."
In the same statement the secretary-general also denounced "the death of a Palestinian child and the injury of its mother in Gaza as the result of Israeli Air Force fire.
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman, launched a formal complain to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council over the mortar shell barrage that killed 51-year-old Amnon Rosenberg, a father of three.
"Israel will not stand idly by as its citizens are subjected to indiscriminate and lethal rocket attacks. Israel
will defend itself, as any other nation would," wrote Gillerman.
Hamas warned on Thursday afternoon that it would continue to launch attacks against Israeli communities near the Gaza border so long as there was no ceasefire in effect.
"We have no intentions of holding back our fire," said a senior Hamas official said after the group's military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, claimed responsibility for the shelling of the factory.