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Defense Minister Mofaz: 'Despite Palestinian Shelling in Gaza, Israel Is Not Giving Up On Mahmoud Abbas'

IDF Officer: 'In the North, Hezbollah May Attack Within Hours or Days!'

PM Ariel Sharon in US

After launching some 80 Qassam rockets and mortars in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian shelling has died down. The Palestinian terrorists targeted Israeli settlements and IDF positions. There was some damage but no Israeli casualties; one Israeli family was saved by the reinforced roof of their home, when it took a direct hit. After Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz telephoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with a sharp warning, the shelling petered out. Briefing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Mofaz said Israel has still not given up on the new Palestinian leader. A somber warning came from a senior IDF officer who warned that Hezbollah is planning to heat up Lebanon's border with Israel.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

Despite the heavy Palestinian shelling in the Gaza Strip, Israel is giving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas another chance. In the north, Israeli forces have gone on alert to cope with a possible Hezbollah attack that could come within hours or days!

DM Shaul Mofaz

Quiet has returned to the Gaza Strip after the massive Palestinian shelling. The terrorists fired some 80 Qassam rockets and mortars within a twenty-four hour period and miraculously there were no Israeli casualties. If there had been, Israel would probably have hit back hard. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz says he is trying to defuse the situation. During the shelling, Mofaz telephone Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and demanded that Palestinian security forces be sent to the launching sites of the terrorists. A short time later, the shelling subsided. Mofaz says Israel is still hoping that Abbas will make good on his Sharm el Sheikh commitments and halt the violence. One problem - Abbas says he needs 4 to 6 months to rein in the terrorists. Mofaz says thats way too long.

  • Incident - the Gaza shelling was triggered when IDF troops spotted a group of 5 young Palestinians trying to infiltrate the Philadelfi Axis security zone; it separates the Israeli controlled Gaza Strip from Egypt. It is through here that most of the arms and explosives are smuggled into Gaza. Three of the infiltrators were killed, the two others fled. Although no arms or explosives were found, Mofaz has no doubt it was an attempted smuggling. The smugglers were on their way from Gaza into Egypt to pick up the illegal arms and bring them back into Gaza. The IDF is conducting an enquiry into whether the troops followed the identifying a suspect drill before shooting to kill.
  • Palestinian security - although President Mahmoud Abbas talks a lot about halting the violence, his security forces have not launched a counter-terror operation. IDF Brig. - Gen. Yossi Kupperwasser said: They don't arrest anyone; only if they see an actual attack about to take place will they step in to stop it. The officer also said the Palestinian Authority may soon decide to postpone the election until after Israel withdraws from Gaza this summer.
  • Disengagement - although there is an official cabinet decision to demolish the evacuated homes in Gaza, the Defense Ministry recommends they be left in tact. However, synagogues and cemeteries should be dismantled and transferred to Israel. By the way, that reinforced roof which saved an Israeli family in the shelling was built recently. Nearly 8 million dollars has been spent on the roof project although the homes will soon be evacuated.
  • Arms Smuggling - although the Egyptians say they have stepped up their efforts, there has actually been a noticeable increase. Israel has agreed the Egyptians be permitted to deploy 750 Border Guards for intercepting arms smugglers on the Egyptian side of the Philadelfi Axis. On this score, Defense Minister Mofaz told the committee If the problem of the arms smuggling from Egypt is cleared up, the IDF will evacuate the Philadelfi security zone.
  • Maale Adumim project - the Defense Ministry released the controversial announcement about Israel constructing another 3,500 housing units linking the West Bank town with Jerusalem. Mofaz played down the issue saying: the end of the long bureaucratic process has not been reached yet. In his view Maale Adumim should be part of greater Jerusalem in a permanent agreement with the Palestinians.
  • Iran's nuclear weapons - like the settlement issue, were high on the agenda of the Bush - Sharon summit. Mofaz spoke of Iran's drive for nuclear weapons as being of grave concern to Israel. The key question is when the Iranians will reach the point of no return in being capable to enrich uranium to weapons grade. Mofaz says the result of the current European effort to halt the Iranians should be clear by June. He is not holding his breath; the Iranians were simply stringing along the Europeans and trying to buy time. Eventually, there would be no alternative but for the U.S. to take the lead in blocking Iran's nuclear weapons program.
  • Hezbollah - the Gaza Strip may not be the only hot spot. Brig. Gadi Shemni of the IDF Operations branch warns Hezbollah may attack within hours or days along Lebanon's frontier with Israel. In the north, the IDF has gone an increased state of readiness to cope with any contingency. Although the Syrian forces are expected to evacuate Lebanon by the end of the month, Damascus is expected to try and keep pulling the political strings after the May election.

Footnote - Several committee members sharply criticized the Israeli decision not to retaliate to the massive Palestinian shelling. MKs David Levi, Ehud Yatom and Yuval Steinitz warned that Mahmoud Abbas would never disarm the terrorists who are exploiting the current situation to prepare for a new intifada against Israel.

David Essing

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