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Israel to restrict its air operations for 48 hours

Defense Minister Amir Peretz: 'The IDF Campaign Against Hezbollah Will Be Widened Despite Forty-Eight Hour Restrictions On Air Strikes'

'An Immediate Cease-fire Will Only Enable Hezbollah To Again Rear Its Head In Another Few Months'

MK Ephraim Sneh: 'IAF Will Keep Hitting Rocket Launchers Threatening Israel, Lend Air Support To Ground Forces And Take Out Syrian Rocket Shipments To Hezbollah'

Defense Minister Peretz

Defense Minister Peretz was addressing a special session of the Knesset - in the visitors gallery were many IDF soldiers who came from the war in Lebanon. After an Israeli air strike lead to the killing of more than fifty civilians in the Lebanese village of Qana, Israel has agreed to restrict its air operations for forty-eight hours. The decision was taken during the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Jerusalem.

Israel's humanitarian gesture of restricting air operations for forty-eight hours will not affect the goals of the IDF campaign; the IDF will broaden and deepen its operations against Hezbollah. That was how Defense Minister Amir Peretz assessed the current situation.

Although Israel has agreed to limit its air strikes it is not a total cease-fire in the skies over Lebanon . Labor Knesset Member Ephraim Sneh says Israeli jets will continue to target Katyusha rocket launchers attacking Israel, lend air support to IDF ground forces and interdict Syrian rocket shipments to Hezbollah. Speaking three hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Israel, Peretz said it was decided to restrict the Air Force and concentrate on activity against attacks on Israel and to enable expanded humanitarian aid to the population in the combat zones.

Soldiers in Knesset

But Peretz, a Labor party dove also told the House: As a man of peace I say to you Israel must not accept a cease-fire that goes into effect immediately. Such a cease-fire would only lead to extreme forces rearing their heads again and in a number of months well find ourselves in a similar situation

The defense minister went on to say: We will not agree that the Hezbollah flag will again fly on the border fence as a threat to Israel. Secretary Rice had left with the aim of building a political infrastructure that could help change the political reality. However the real outcome would be influenced by what happened on the ground and there was no change in Israel s determination. Israel s first goal was to retrieve the two IDF soldiers who were abducted in the Hezbollah raid that killed six other soldiers.Jerusalem also insisted that an  international force with teeth would be stationed in southern Lebanon to prevent a return of Hezbollah.  

At present, IDF forces were continuing to  hit the Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon . Dozens of bulldozers were altering the landscape to prevent direct fire at Israeli communities and civilians. Israel would also prevent the setting up of Hezbollah positions on the front line. This approach would also make it tougher for Hezbollah to plant mines and abduct IDF soldiers in the future.

After the Qana tragedy Israel has decided to try and steer clear of air strikes against Hezbollah targets in populated areas. But is time running out? Prime Minister Olmert has said the IDF needs up to two weeks to achieve its mission of expelling Hezbollah from the south. On the other hand, the deployment of a new international force is expected to take much longer. Olmert reportedly says there will be no truce until that force is in place in southern Lebanon .

Footnote: Reacting to the international condemnation, Defense Minister Peretz told the Knesset: There is no army in the world that is more moral than the IDF.  Every effort was made not to hit civilians. When a rocket depot was detected in a building, the families were warned to evacuate before an air strike. In the case of Qana, The IDF was unaware that civilians were in the basement. He said: We deeply regret any harm done to an adult or child and will continue to do all to prevent it in the future. Arab Knesset members did not agree. After repeatedly heckling the defense minister several were ejected by Speaker Dalia Itzik. Some Arab MK's called Peretz a killer. In turn, they were branded as 'fifth column' traitors, who support Hezbollah

On the other hand, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz took issue with the 48-hour restrictions of air operations. Steinitz said there was no little hypocrisy involved. He referred to the thousands of civilians killed by air strikes elsewhere in the world the Americans in Iraq and the Russians in Chechnya . During todays debate, Opposition leader Bibi Netanyahu spoke of how he was interviewed by an irate reporter for a British TV network. Netanyahu recalled how in WWII, an RAF air raid had tried to demolish the Gestapo headquarters in Denmark but missed and killed dozens of Danish children.

David Essing

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