(Communicated by the Cabinet Secretariat)

At the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 23 May 2004:

1. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon welcomed incoming Director General of the Prime Minister’s office, Mr. Ilan Cohen, and wished him luck in fulfilling his position.

2. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz briefed ministers on joint security matters and said that terrorist efforts continue, specifically to perpetrate suicide terror attacks, and that the security forces continue to operate to thwart these attacks.

The purpose of the operation in Rafiah was to aid Israel’s war against smuggling war materiel through the tunnels. Operation Rainbow’s main objective was to deal with the root of terrorism, with the smuggling of war materiel and the IDF’s ability to fight it. The method chosen, was to isolate Rafiah from Khan Yunis, enter into the neighborhoods which border on the Philadelphia route, assume control of them, detain terrorists and those that hide them, search for tunnels, attack armed terrorists who open fire on Israeli forces and create freedom of movement in these areas. The IDF has so far uncovered two tunnels, injured dozens of armed terrorists and arrested a number of wanted fugitives. The Defense Minister emphasized that the purpose was not to destroy houses.

Defense Minister Mofaz added that the Palestinians as usual, attempted to depict a humanitarian tragedy, including the demolishment of hundreds of homes and thousands of new refugees. The reality is totally different – individual houses were demolished and some were damaged due to continuous fighting. The IDF was careful to provide humanitarian aid which included granting access to ambulances, supplying medical aid and distribution of basic supplies. 

In relating to the events of 29 May 2004 where a number of Palestinians were injured by IDF fire, the Defense Minister said that eight Palestinians were killed in this regretful incident; preliminary conclusions showed that they were injured by a shell which was not aimed at them directly; the IDF had information that there was an armed procession moving towards them, and that the warning shots were fired into an open area and at an abandoned building.  People were injured from shrapnel. The IDF expressed regret at the harm to civilians and is carrying out a full investigation into the incident. It should be noted that the demonstration was organized by the Palestinian Authority, and involved both armed and unarmed people, who were sent to dangerous fighting ground. The IDF requested that the demonstration be stopped but were not answered.

The Defense Minister also discussed various operations thwarting attempted terrorist attacks in the last week.

3. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom briefed ministers on joint diplomatic matters and said that the international community reacted strongly to Operation Rainbow, especially after eight Palestinians were killed.  Following this incident, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution which condemned Israel and called on it to cease the operation.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that his German counterpart Joschka Fischer and US Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned him to express their concern over the continuation of the operation. At the same time, US Secretary of State Powell recognized Israel’s security needs and its complete right to defend itself. 

Further condemnations following the incident came from UN Secretary Kofi Annan and EU President Bertie Ahern. Particularly unjust was the Irish Foreign Minister’s comparison of the death of Palestinian civilians to that of the murder of the Hatuel family. Foreign Minister Shalom summoned the Irish Ambassador to Israel to his office in order to strongly protest the Irish position. The Israeli Ambassador to Ireland was instructed to express a similar stance.

The Foreign Minister reported on his visit to Spain where he met with senior Spanish officials, and said that the international community must put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism, which will reduce the need for Israel to act independently on this matter.

Foreign Minister Shalom said that he sent a letter to UN Secretary Kofi Annan in which he demanded that the UN investigate the cynical manipulation of UNRWA ambulances for terror purposes.

The Foreign Minister also discussed his meeting with senior Jordanian officials at the beginning of the week, the incident at the Allenby Bridge, Abu-Ala’s meeting with US National Security Advisor Condeleezza Rice, and the Arab summit which opened yesterday in Tunisia, and its results.