Israel Will Attack Gaza Until Hamas Can No Longer Fire Rockets, Livni Says


The rubble of the al-Fadilah mosque sits in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike on Jan. 11, 2009. Photographer: Khaled Hasan/Bloomberg News

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) — Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israeli troops will keep on fighting in the Gaza Strip until Hamas rockets no longer pose a threat as representatives of the militant Islamic group headed to Cairo for more cease-fire talks.

Israel’s priority isn’t to reach a cease-fire with Hamas even though the United Nations Security Council called for an immediate truce. Instead, the goal is to reach new security arrangements with Egypt to prevent weapons smuggling into Gaza, Livni said.

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“I don’t need Hamas to sign on a piece of paper,” Livni said in discussing efforts to broker a truce during an interview with Army Radio. What’s more important, she said, is that when Palestinians fire rockets into Israel, “they know they will be hurt.”

Egyptian and European diplomats are trying to mediate between Israel and Hamas in order to stop the fighting that has left more than 900 Palestinians dead. Demonstrations against Israel’s military operation in Gaza took place across Europe over the weekend, while rallies were held in cities including New York in support of Israel’s efforts to stop rocket fire from Gaza into the Jewish state’s southern cities.

Calls for “Operation Cast Lead” to be ended are also growing within Israel where Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo peace accords, called Livni’s remarks “unforgivable,” and said the government should actively seek a truce.

Israel should focus on getting Egypt to stop arms smuggling into Gaza by doubling its border force to 1,500 and cease the military assault on the Palestinian territory, Beilin said.

Cease-Fire

“We must be ready to cease fire,” Beilin, a former justice minister, said in a phone interview from Tel Aviv. “If the other side breaches the cease-fire, we will have freedom of movement to fight back, but they’ve shown in the past they can observe a cease-fire.”

The Israeli military, reinforced by newly called-up reservists, pressed ahead with its operation against Hamas today, striking at least 25 targets from the air and sea, and clashing with Palestinian gunmen on the ground, the army said in an e- mailed statement. Israeli troops, who had been holding positions outside Gaza City, pushed into its southern neighborhoods yesterday.

In one incident, Palestinian gunmen opened fire at Israeli ground forces from a mosque and were then attacked by Israeli aircraft, the army said. Later, the Israeli troops found Qassam rockets and mortar shells inside the mosque.

Rockets Fired

The army said about 20 rockets were fired into Israel today, the 17th day of the conflict. The number of rockets fired has been cut to around 20 a day from more than 70 before the war, the military said. About 500 rockets and 200 mortar shells have been fired since the start of the operation.

For now, the main job of Israeli reservists will likely be to replace regular soldiers “who need a rest after operating in Gaza for more than a week,” Ephraim Kam, military analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said in a telephone interview.

A delegation of Hamas officials will return to Cairo today to continue talks with Egyptian officials on how to achieve a cease-fire, Egypt’s presidential spokesman said.

“They left to Damascus today and they are coming back tonight for more talks,” Suliman Awad said in an interview from Cairo. “They took the terms of the Egyptian proposal with them.”

While seeking to cement understandings with both sides to end the conflict, Egyptian officials reminded Hamas that the bloodshed could have been avoided.

Egyptian Warning

“Egypt has repeatedly warned that a refusal to renew the truce would prompt Israel to attack Gaza and that attempts to thwart Egypt’s efforts to extend the truce was an open invitation to Israeli aggression,” the Egyptian government said in a statement from the Information Ministry.

Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by the U.S., Israel and the European Union, refuses to recognize Israel or any peace agreements with the Jewish state. The organization seeks the lifting of the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza after the group seized control of the seaside strip in June 2007 and ended a partnership government with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

Hamas “will not accept any negotiations for a cease-fire while we are under fire,” Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus, Syria- based Hamas leader, said at the weekend. “Let Israel withdraw first and our people live rightfully without a siege and with open crossings.”

Food Shortages

The Israeli assault on Gaza has killed 905 Palestinians and left 3,950 wounded, according to Mu’awia Hassanein, chief of emergency medical services in Gaza. Thirteen Israelis have died, nine from combat, according to the army.

As the fighting continues, international aid groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis, with shortages of food, water and medicines in the impoverished Gaza Strip, where about 1.5 million people live in an area of 360 square kilometers (144 square miles).

The UN resumed aid distribution after working out a security arrangement with Israel to assure the safety of its drivers. One driver working for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was killed and two were injured on Jan. 8. The UN said that Israeli gunfire killed the driver. Israel says it’s still investigating the incident.

Since Israel began bombing Gaza Dec. 27, its benchmark stock index, the TA-25 Index, has gained about 8 percent. Government bonds have dropped 1 percent, while the shekel fell 0.3 percent against the dollar.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net; Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza City through the Tel Aviv newsroom at .

Last Updated: January 12, 2009 09:29 EST
By Jonathan Ferziger and Saud Abu Ramadan

Source: Bloomberg

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