For the second time during his term in office, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has declared war – this time on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“For seven years now, civilians have been attacked by missiles. Life in the South has become unbearable,” Olmert said, with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to his right and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to his left. “It could take time, and we require a great measure of patience in order to complete the mission.”
Olmert noted that Israel did everything in order to enable the lull in the south to go on.
“The desire for calm was met with terror,” he said. “No country would reconcile itself to such reality. In recent days it turned out that Hamas was interested in a confrontation. Under such circumstances, we had no choice but to respond.”
“We are not rushing into battle with joy, yet we are not deterred either,” he said.
Addressing the decision-making process, Olmert noted that he consulted with the defence minister and foreign minister on Friday, and decided to embark on an operation.
“The operation is meant to improve the security reality of southern residents in a thorough manner,” he said. Addressing Israeli citizens, he said that the number of missiles fired at Israel in the near future may grow, and that they may hit locations previously out of the line of fire.
“We invested much in preparations for this kind of confrontation,” he said. “I’m urging citizens to completely follow the instructions of the Home Front Command. These instructions will save lives.” He also made it clear that Israel will assist Gaza’s civilian population.
Turning his attention to abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Olmert said that “on this day too, my heart is with the Shalit family.”
Olmert, Barak and Livni met Saturday evening with Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin, in order to discuss the first day of the operation. A senior official at Olmert’s office said that “at this time we are not negotiating with anyone. We are continuing with the operation.”
The official noted that PM Olmert’s conversations with many world leaders show that Israel enjoys wide support. He particularly made note of Egypt’s foreign minister, who criticized Hamas earlier in the day.
Israel’s Gaza assault got underway at 11:30 am Saturday, with two waves of aerial bombardments. By Saturday evening, more than 200 Palestinians were reported killed, after more than 100 bombs hit about 100 targets.