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ARABS-ISRAEL - July 9 - Offensive To Continue In Gaza, Israel Says.

PM Ehud Olmert tells his cabinet Israel will continue its military offensive in the Gaza Strip at its own pace until Palestinian militants release a captured Israeli soldier and halt their rocket attacks. The operation in Gaza is a "war for which it is impossible to set a timetable", Olmert said, according to briefings provided by an Israeli official. "We will continue this battle with level headedness and patience, while making use of the proper means", he said. "We cannot sit and not respond to the Qassam rocket fire". Olmert ruled out negotiations with Hamas, which leads the Palestinian government and whose military branch is holding Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was taken in a raid into Israel on June 25. "Such negotiations would support another kidnapping", Olmert said. He said that he had been prepared to release prisoners to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, before the two men met for a formal summit meeting, something that Abbas himself said on July 7. But Olmert said that "we intended to release them to moderate elements, not terrorist elements". Releasing prisoners to Hamas in response to a kidnapping would further damage Palestinian moderates and reward extremism, Olmert said. He repeated to the cabinet that Israel would not reoccupy Gaza, but would act militarily there as it saw fit. "We will operate, enter and pull out as needed", the Israeli official quoted Olmert as saying. Major General Yoav Galant, commander of Israel's southern region, said late Saturday that Israel was ready for a long campaign, planning to shift the focus of operations from place to place. "We are prepared to continue the operation a month, two months and, if need be, even more", Galant told Channel 2 TV. "The Palestinians will do their reckoning. They will count hundreds of dead terrorists; they will count the damaged infrastructure, the destroyed offices, the damaged factories". On July 9, the Palestinians counted more dead, even as, in wildly emotional scenes, they mourned and buried four people killed July 8 night, near the Karni commercial crossing, in a house explosion. The Palestinans blamed Israel for the deaths and praised the dead as "shuhada", or martyrs. But Israel said on July 9 said that its investigation showed that the explosion did not come from an airstrike, and intelligence showed that it was caused by a Palestinian anti-tank rocket. Captain Jacob Dallal, an army spokesman, said that the air force, which tracks its missiles carefully, said that its missile "hit the intended target", which was a nearby street where armed militants were walking with weapons. He said the army did not know what happened to the men it targeted, but that "we hit the area we targeted, not the house". An Israeli military official said that intelligence information developed later, presumably from a source within Gaza, "clearly says that it was a Palestinian anti-tank missile". The military official said that he was unable to be identified or to be more specific. On July 9, a Palestinian civilian was killed by an Israeli missile launched at a car carrying Hamas militants in the southern town of Rafah. The militants apparently escaped from the car, and a second missile hit nearby, wounding bystanders. The dead man was identified as Bilal Sliman Rabah, an 18-year- old supermarket clerk. Seven other Palestinians were wounded, with one in very serious condition, hospital authorities said. Earlier July 9, just after midnight, the air force struck a group of armed militants near the Karni commercial crossing, wounding three, Palestinian security sources said. And the Israeli air force destroyed a key bridge in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, and an electricity transformer there. Palestinians continued to fire Qassam rockets into Israel despite the military operation. One resident of the nearby Israeli town of Sderot was moderately wounded July 9 morning by shrapnel from a Qassam. A second rocket hit a house, causing damage, and three people were treated for shock. Three of the four Palestinians killed on July 8 in the house explosion were members of the Hajaj family - Um Ayman Hajaj, 48, her son Muhammad, 21, and her daughter Rawan, 6. Four other family members were wounded. Iman Hajaj, 23, one of Um Ayman Hajaj's 14 children, was in the house at the time, in the living room, while some of those wounded were watching an Egyptian soap opera on television. Those who died, she said, were outside in the garden, drinking tea or cooking corn over a fire. "We had been nervous for two days with the movement of tanks and the shells", said Hajaj, sitting in a room of mourning women, all covered in black head scarves and long black robes, in a relative's house nearby. "My brother Muhammad, who died, had just arrived a minute before to visit my married sister", Hajaj said, beginning to cry, then held out her hand, holding a curved piece of shrapnel. "More than 20 pieces like this we took from the body of my mother", she said. As she spoke, young women who lined the banister of the stairway began to chant in unison: With our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice ourselves for our shahid". Um Hassan Hajaj, the aunt of the dead mother, spoke angrily about what she said was the responsibility of Israel and the US for the deaths in her family. "Look at what your weapons are doing to us", she yelled. "All of Palestine is ours, and Israel must leave our land". As the television cameras came closer, she turned to them and shouted: One day the Muslim countries will change everything, and there will be hard days for America. Injustice never lasts".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Jul 15, 2006
Previous Article:ARAB AFFAIRS - July 13 - Syria And Iran Told To Rein In Hizbullah.
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