PM Olmert to Cabinet: "Striking at Hamas increases chance for peace."

(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

Following are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 2 March 2008:

"Last weekend was marked by the continuing violence by the Palestinian terrorist organizations, which attempted to shoot Kassam rockets and GRAD missiles at the areas they have been shooting at all the time and at the Ashkelon area, to which they have expanded their range.

The start of this round was the result of a strike on a cell that was attempting to perpetrate a high-profile attack in Israel, which was successfully foiled by our forces. The security forces are worthy of praise for this achievement in preventing such an attack, as a result of which, expanded Kassam rocket and GRAD missile fire was begun. It must be clear.

The State of Israel has no intention of halting counter-terrorism actions even for a second. If somebody thinks that by extending the rockets’ range, he will succeed in deterring us from our activity, he is gravely mistaken. We will act in accordance with the outline that the Government will decide on, with the means that we decide on, at the timing we decide on, with the strength we decide on, without respite in order to strike at the terrorist organizations – Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the others, including their leaders, those who dispatch them, those who provide their weapons, those who allow them into act in given places, according to the outline that we will choose.

We lost two soldiers in the recent fighting: St.-Sgt. Doron Asulin and St.-Sgt. Eran Dan-Gur, from the Givati Brigade. The Government and the entire country send condolences to their families.

I have recently heard criticism and claims that civilians are being hurt, that the State of Israel is using too much force. I do not recall that some of those making these claims have – over the years – said that the situation in the south was intolerable and that measures had to be taken to out a stop to it. It must be noted that the State of Israel defends its residents in the south and that, with all due respect, nothing will deter us from continuing to defend our residents. Nobody has the right to preach morality to the State of Israel for taking basic action to defend itself and prevent hundreds of thousands of residents of the south from continuing to be exposed to incessant firing that disrupts their lives.

I am encouraged by the residents of the south. I spoke with the mayors of Sderot and Ashkelon over the weekend and I felt that there was great determination, fortitude and appreciation for the untiring actions of the IDF and the security forces. Today and in the coming days, we will hold security discussions, including a Cabinet discussion on Wednesday, in order to consider the ways in which the security forces can operate. 

Naturally, we are interested in continuing the diplomatic negotiations. When the diplomatic negotiations began, we made it clear that they would not, in any way, be conducted at the expense of our right to defend the residents of Israel against the intolerable actions of the terrorist organizations. Nobody in the world would deny that striking at Hamas strengthens the chance for peace. The more that Hamas is hit, the greater the chances of reaching a diplomatic agreement and peace. It is clear to me that beyond these and other statements that the Palestinian leadership with whom we are trying to make peace, understands this.

Israel will continue to defend its citizens and will continue to make efforts to hold negotiations in order to reach a dialogue and understanding with the Palestinian leadership that wants this."

2. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, GOC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, ISA Director Yuval Diskin and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Gaby Ashkenazi briefed ministers on current security matters including background to the current clash with Hamas as well as the current fighting. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed ministers on diplomatic aspects of the conflict.

3. Prime Minister Olmert briefed ministers on his recent visit to Japan.

4. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On briefed ministers on the implementation of the plan to change and improve pension and support payments for the needy elderly.

5. The Cabinet discussed expanding the 2008 health services basket.