By Barak Ravid, Avi Issacharoff, and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents
Defense Minister Amir Peretz warned Tuesday that Israel is displaying self-restraint over the ongoing Qassam attacks from the Gaza Strip, in order to avoid the use of ground troops in efforts to halt the rockets.
Peretz said the remarks in a conversation to the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, in their meeting in Jerusalem. Shortly after his arrival in Israel on Monday, Solana accompanied Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on a visit to Sderot, which has bourne the brunt of Qassam attacks.
The defense minister also requested that the European Union renew its sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and not release frozen funds.
"If the international community does not stop the terror organizations, we will find ourselves in a situation where the Palestinian Authority will completely disintegrate," Peretz warned.
Solana denounced the ongoing Qassam attacks and said that "we are living in a period of increasing violence, and we would very much like to calm the siutation and solve it in diplomatic methods."
Peretz maintained that "all the good will demonstrated when building the Palestinian unity governement must now be brought to an end. The unity government is not functioning in today's anarchic situation in the Gaza Strip, but instead is legitimizing murder in Gaza and the continuation of rocket firing at Israel. The positive atmoshpere that was once expressed by this government is now overshadowed by the wave of violence that they themselves began."
The defense minister said that Israel has done all it can to maintain the cease-fire. "We were blamed for showing too much restraint, but until Hamas was not involved - until it wasn't clear what part the unity government had [in the firing] - we did everything to show restraint. Today, Hamas is the one leading the violence, defending the firing, and we do not intend to stop, unless the firing ceases."
He issued a further warning to Hamas, saying that Israel will take any measures to protect itself.
"The firing won't stop? Then we will be obliged to defend our citizens and children," he said.
Sneh: Not even Haniyeh is immune from IDF strike
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh hinted Tuesday morning that Israel could target Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas as part of steps to counter the Qassam rocket fire.
Israel has carried out extensive bombing raids in Gaza, the source of the rocket fire, targeting Hamas and other militant groups responsible for the attacks.
Early Tuesday, the Israel Air Force launched two air strikes against targets in central Gaza, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.
Asked if Haniyeh was on Israel's hit-list, Sneh told Israel Radio: "I'll put it like this, there is no one who is in the circle of commanders and leaders in Hamas who is immune from a strike.
"For what does political Hamas do? It gives the operational approval, if not the actual ratification, to those who are doing the fighting," Sneh said.
"When someone preaches that the State of Israel should be destroyed, he is
not in the political echelon, he is a terrorist in a suit."
The London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabiya newspaper reported Tuesday that Hamas militants and former ministers have gone underground in fear of an Israeli airstrike.
A bodyguard of former Palestinian Interior Minister Sayid Siam told the paper that he does not know where Siam is, and cannot reach him. Sources close to former Palestinian foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar also said they have lost contact with him.
Hamas offered Monday to halt the rocket fire if Israel agreed to a temporary truce that extended to the West Bank.
The IAF said the Tuesday morning strikes targeted a building housing weapon depositories and another that served as a "command center" for the Popular Resistance Committees.
Witnesses and a Hamas spokesman said that the strikes destroyed a metal foundry and a wood workshop that Hamas militants had gathered near.
Palestinian security officials said there were no casualties in the air strikes, which came hours after a woman was killed in a Qassam attack on the Negev town of Sderot.
Haniyeh of Hamas vowed Monday that Hamas would fight until 'victory or martyrdom,' as Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip killed five Palestinians, including four members of an Islamic Jihad Qassam firing squad.
"We will keep to the same path until we win one of two goals: victory or martyrdom," said Haniyeh at a funeral service for a Hamas lawmaker's family members, who were killed Sunday in an IAF strike.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Israel's attacks would have "grave consequences for the entire region." he called on militants to end their rocket fire "so as not to give the Israelis the excuse they use to justify their attacks that have killed innocent victims," according to his spokesman, Nabil Amr.
In response to the air strikes, Islamic Jihad threatened to target Israeli leaders. "The Zionist attack will not stop rocket fire against Zionist towns," said Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Ahmed. "Leaders of the Zionist enemy will pay a price."
Hamas also pledged to strike at "the enemy anywhere in Palestine, whether with suicide attacks or operations against soldiers," said Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://zionism-israel.com/israel_news/2007/05/dm-peretz-dont-hold-me-back.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.