Monday, December 15, 2008

Livni Says Israel Can’t Tolerate Hamas State in Gaza (Update1)

By Gwen Ackerman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel can't tolerate a Hamas-run state in the Gaza Strip, as a six-month truce with the Islamic militant group comes to an end.

"Hamas cannot continue to control Gaza," Livni said in remarks to high school students today. "In the long term, Israel cannot tolerate an extreme Islamic state on its southern border."

The truce, or "lull," as both sides call it, has been repeatedly violated in recent weeks as Palestinian militants lob rockets at Israel and Israeli troops and aircraft fire on launchers. The period of calm officially ends Dec. 19.

Livni's comments were the harshest the Israeli leader has made to date and came in the midst of an election campaign that began after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned to fight corruption allegations. Livni, who took over as leader of their Kadima party, failed to form a new coalition. Israelis go to the polls on Feb. 10.

Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim echoed Livni's remarks in an e- mailed statement calling on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to act against Hamas before the end of the truce.

'Not Rhetoric'

"This is not just rhetoric," Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University, said in a phone interview, referring to the comments by Israeli leaders. "It clearly reflects a crossroads. The policy has failed and all options are back on the table."

More than 90 Qassam rockets and 72 mortar shells have been launched at Israel from Gaza since Nov. 15, an army spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity by regulation. Israel carried out five air strikes against the Gaza militants during the same period, she said.

One of the more sensitive issues between Israel and the Muslim group is Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for more than two years. Barak has said Israel's interest in the lull in fighting has been to maintain a truce that would allow negotiations for Shalit's release to continue.

Livni told the students today that it may not be possible to bring every Israeli soldier back home.

'Skit of Horror'

At a Hamas rally yesterday to mark the 21st anniversary of its founding, the group presented a militant dressed in an Israeli army uniform who begged in Hebrew to be allowed to go home. Photos of the skit were splashed across on the front page of the Israeli mass-circulation dailies Ma'ariv and Yediot Ahronot. "A skit of horror," read the banner headline in Yediot.

"The fact that Shalit is still being held is adding to tensions," Steinberg said. "Hamas is stronger, not weaker. The truce has broken down. Iran's presence in Gaza is increasing and a new administration is coming to Washington. A new policy has to be developed."

As part of a bid to stop the rocket attacks and put pressure on Hamas to return Shalit, Israel sealed off its border crossings with Gaza on Nov. 4, when the latest round of rocket attacks began. It has periodically eased the closure to allow in necessities.

Ninety trucks carrying animal fodder and humanitarian supplies were allowed into Gaza today, said Nasser al-Sarraj, an official at Gaza's ministry of economy. Some fuel was also allowed in, he said. The easing of the restrictions was confirmed by Maj. Peter Lerner at Israel's Defense Ministry.

Hamas has to some extent bypassed the embargo with tunnels it dug under Gaza's border with Egypt.

Steinberg said the options under consideration by Israel include military actions such as a temporary reoccupation of Gaza, a resumption of the so-called targeted killing of top Hamas leaders, and an attempt to rescue Shalit.

Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya told journalists in Gaza yesterday that the cease-fire won't be extended when it ends in four days. "The Israeli occupation forces have destroyed the lull, its conditions and terms by sealing off the crossings and continuing their aggression against the Palestinian people," he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 06:26 EST

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