Tuesday, August 23, 2011

PMO: 'Israel isn't rushing to launch a military operation in Gaza'

(Shlomo Cesana-Israelhayom). Israel is not planning to launch a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip following last week's terror attack near Eilat and the escalation of rocket fire on southern Israeli towns, a top government official from the Prime Minister's Office said Monday. The official explained that Israel's decision was influenced largely by current events in Egypt, Libya and Syria.

The official's comments follow the decision by the Forum of Eight senior ministers on Sunday to respond to attacks from Gaza using targeted air strikes rather than a large-scale offensive.

"You cannot consider a military operation only based on the operation itself," the official said. "We are acting out of caution and responsibility, and are carefully following our relations with the U.S., Egypt and other countries amid developments in the Middle East," the official added. "We are not rushing to war, and will only consider it as a last resort."

The PMO official said that at no point did Israel engage in cease-fire negotiations with Hamas or Egypt during the recent escalation of violence, and that even when the U.S., Europe and the U.N. offered to mediate, Israel declined the offer, leaving Hamas to declare a unilateral cease-fire.

Commenting on the current tension with Egypt, the official said Israel did not apologize to Egypt for the deaths of five Egyptian policemen mistakenly killed by Israeli soldiers pursuing terrorists responsible for last Thursday's deadly attack, but expressed sorrow over, and agreed to a joint investigation of the circumstances surrounding, the deaths.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also commented on the fragile diplomatic situation with Egypt. "I did what was necessary, considering that we are currently involved in a very sensitive point in our relations with Egypt," Barak said in an interview with Channel 2 news. Government officials in Cairo said that Israel's expression of remorse was not enough, and Egypt expects Israel to issue a formal apology and take the necessary steps to avoid the occurrence of a similar incident in the future.