Israeli FM: Ceasefire a mistake

AP and AFP, Monday 11 Apr 2011

Israel's Avigdor Lieberman states that he would rather crush Hamas than agree a truce with the ruling Gaza movement

Israel's foreign minister says that working toward a cease fire with Hamas is a "grave mistake" and that his country should try to topple the militant Gaza governors instead.

Avigdor Lieberman's remarks come as international mediators try to halt new fighting between Israel and Gaza that escalated dramatically last week to the most intense confrontation between the two since Israel's war in the strip in late December 2008.

After a lull overnight, Lieberman told Israel Radio on Monday that Hamas exploits calm to build its fighting force and smuggle in weapons to use against Israel.

The military says Palestinians have fired more than 130 rockets and mortar shells into southern Israel, most of which have landed in empty spaces, since Thursday. Israeli offensives have killed at least 19 Palestinians.

The Israeli press was on Monday pessimistic about the durability of the unwritten ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas which appeared to have taken hold.

"Until the next time..." was the headline of a commentary piece in the liberal Haaretz newspaper which saw the situation as still volatile, compared with the truce that followed Israel's bloody 22-day offensive on Gaza which began at the end of December 2008.

"Calm may be restored gradually since mutual deterrence appears to be working, at least partially," wrote Amos Harel. "However an informal ceasefire, even if it is achieved, will be less stable than the situation that dominated relations between the two sides after Operation Cast Lead in early 2009."

A ceasefire was floated by both sides on Sunday and by the end of the day, the situation had calmed significantly for the first time since Thursday, when an anti-tank missile slammed into an Israeli school bus prompting a wave of retaliatory air strikes.

During the flareup 18 Palestinians were killed, half of them civilians, and more than 150 rockets and mortar rounds fired into southern Israel in the deadliest confrontation since Operation Cast Lead.

"Both sides still hold a few aces," Harel wrote. "Israel can reoccupy the Gaza Strip if it chooses to do so and Hamas has rockets that can reach Tel Aviv. But neither side is eager to use its ace because of the heavy price it will have to pay."

Quoting a senior security official, the top-selling Yediot Aharonot said Israel and Hamas had returned to the rules which existed before the flareup, according to which "calm is maintained and there are no attacks except against (Palestinian) rocket-launching squads or (militant) squads approaching the border fence."

"In the south, they are hoping for quiet," read the headline on the rival Maariv daily, referring to the towns and villages in southern Israel.

"Hamas wants to turn down the heat," it said.

The papers lauded the initial successes of the newly-deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which on Thursday brought down its first missile in a real-life combat scenario and which has since torpedoed several projectiles fired at the southern cities of Ashkelon and Beersheva.

But as the English-language Jerusalem Post pointed out, the system provides only a "partial answer."

"Iron Dome's greatest weakness is that it cannot provide a solution for rockets or mortar shells with a range of about 4.5 kilometres (2.8 miles) or less," it said.

Yediot likened the Iron Dome system to a "simple painkiller to fight a serious illness," noting that the army has only two batteries so far and it will take another two years to obtain four more, while Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia have "thousands of rockets" ready for use against Israel.

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