Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday he would
push ahead with the army's widescale offensive in the Gaza Strip, saying the
fight to free an abducted soldier and stop militant rocket fire would last for a
An Israeli military tank and armored vehicles
advance towards the abandoned airport near the southern Gaza Strip town of
Rafah from a gathering point near kibbutz Kerem Shalom, just outside the
Gaza Strip, July 9, 2006. [AP Photo]
The 12-day-old operation has caused widespread destruction in Gaza, left 51
Palestinians dead and led to international complaints that Israel was using
Despite the offensive, militants launched three rockets into Israel on
Sunday, wounding one person in the town of Sderot and damaging a house. Also,
militants linked to the Palestinians' ruling Hamas party maintained their
refusal to free Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a June 25 raid, or even
reveal his condition.
Speaking to the Israeli Cabinet, Olmert counseled patience.
"We're talking about a war that will continue for a long time and it is
complicated," Olmert said, according to a participant in the meeting. "This is a
war for which we cannot set down a timetable and we can't say how long it will
The Cabinet expressed unanimous support for the military action in Gaza and
Olmert's refusal to negotiate with the militants, who demanded the release of
1,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information about Shalit, 19.
Israeli security officials told the Cabinet that the offensive, the army's
largest operation in Gaza since Israel withdrew from the territory last summer,
was likely to force the militants to scale back their demands, according to the
participant in the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the
meeting was closed to the press.
But Palestinians were widely supportive of the militants' actions. A poll
released Sunday showed that 77 percent of those questioned backed Shalit's
kidnapping and 67 percent said they supported further abductions. Sixty-nine
percent said the soldier should only be released in exchange for prisoners.
The survey of 1,197 Palestinians by the Jerusalem Media and Communication
Center had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
Olmert told the Cabinet that before Shalit was captured, he had been planning
a prisoner release as a goodwill gesture to moderate Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas, but now a release appears out of the question.
"It's not a secret before the kidnapping that we would free prisoners. But we
intended to release them to moderate elements and not to terrorist elements,"
"The release of prisoners means destroying the moderates in the Palestinian
Authority, and would signal to the world that Israel can only talk to
Since the offensive began June 28, Israeli forces have battered Gaza with
artillery barrages and airstrikes. One airstrike Sunday missed a car carrying
members of a Hamas rocket squad and killed a bystander instead, Palestinian
health officials said. The army confirmed it carried out an airstrike.
The United Nations blamed Israel for widespread human rights violations and
hardship to civilians in Gaza.
Palestinian hospital officials say 51 Palestinians have been killed and more
than 180 wounded in the offensive.
One Israeli soldier was killed last week, and military officials said Sunday
an initial inquiry showed he was shot accidentally by Israeli forces.
Olmert and other ministers said they were not overly concerned about the
"Anybody who calls this operation disproportionate has no clue about the
facts on the ground. We have been attacked and bombarded for months and weeks,"
Cabinet minister Yitzhak Herzog said.
"With all due respect to all those who criticize us, if
anything of this nature would have happened in their homeland, they would have
acted much worse."