Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged Sunday to step up attacks on Hamas after a rocket from Gaza killed an Israeli man, and brushed aside efforts by Egypt and Palestinian moderates to negotiate a new truce. "No one is immune," Olmert said of Hamas.
Olmert's comments, coupled with the latest bloodshed, signaled the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza won't end soon.
An 11-day campaign of Israeli airstrikes aimed at halting rocket attacks from Gaza has killed nearly 50 Palestinians, most of them militants. But the rocket fire has continued, and Hamas said its attacks would continue as long as the Israeli air strikes persist.
Another rocket slammed into the southern Israeli town of Sderot early Sunday, killing a 36-year-old computer technician as he was driving. It was the second fatal rocket attack in less than a week.
Olmert told the weekly meeting of his Cabinet Sunday that he had instructed the army to do whatever it takes to halt the rocket fire. "There will be no limit in acting against the terror groups and against those who are responsible for the terror. No one is immune," Olmert said.
He said the campaign was not limited in time, and that Israel would not yield to outside pressure.
In the closed-door segment of the Cabinet meeting, Olmert also seemed cool to efforts by Egypt and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate a new cease-fire.
"I don't commit that we will take action according to Hamas' action, whether they stop fire or whether they open fire," he was quoted as saying by a participant.
Olmert acknowledged that there is no quick military solution to halting the crude Qassam rockets, which have baffled Israel's high-tech army for years. He told his ministers to be prepared for a long-term conflict. "We don't want to create unrealistic expectations that it's possible to stop the Qassams totally," Olmert said.
The participant in the Cabinet meeting said the ministers didn't talk about targeting Hamas' political leaders or launching a large-scale ground operation in Gaza.
Israel has so far avoided attacks on Hamas leaders - a tactic it used at the height of Israeli-Palestinian fighting earlier this decade. It was not immediately clear whether Olmert's comments Sunday were aimed at the Hamas leadership. The group is now the senior partner in the Palestinian coalition government.
Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin would not comment on whether Hamas' political leaders were now targets, but said Israel would strike not only against those involved in the rocket attacks, but also against anyone who smuggles weapons or money used for attacking Israel.
"If somebody in the hierarchy is involved in terrorism, they should not feel safe," she said.
The Israeli air strikes appear to have hit Hamas hard - knocking out key Hamas bases, killing several top militants and forcing the movement's leadership underground.
Israeli missiles also have hit close to the homes of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas lawmaker Khalil al-Haya, though the army has said the men weren't targets.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, warned Israel against targeting the movement's leaders. "Whoever thinks that harming the Hamas leadership can dissipate the movement is a fool," he said. "Hamas is a group based on institutions, not individuals."
Sunday's rocket attack came a day after Hamas vowed revenge for a barrage of Israeli air strikes that killed five militants in Gaza. Hamas rejected calls for a truce and promised more attacks.
It also warned that the Israeli air assault would jeopardize the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured last June by Hamas-linked militants. Shalit has not been heard from or seen since his capture.
In all, the Israeli campaign has killed 49 Palestinians, most of them militants.
(China Daily via agencies May 28, 2007)