Defence minister says Israel not planning new Gaza war

Israel Materials 2 February 2009 14:20 (UTC +04:00)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Monday that Israel does not intend to launch another broad operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip after launching air strikes on Sunday in response to rocket fire, reported Reuters.

"It is not our intention to have an Operation Cast Lead 2," Barak said in an interview with the YNet news Web site, using Israel's name for its recent 22-day offensive in Gaza.

"We said there would be a response and there was a response last night."

His comments clashed with statements on Sunday by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni who said that, if necessary, Israel would mount a new offensive in the Gaza Strip to choke off cross-border rocket fire.

Both Barak, head of the center-left Labor Party, and Livni, chairman of the ruling, centrist Kadima party, are candidates for prime minister in Israel's February 10 election.

Opinion polls forecast victory for right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud.

Israeli planes attacked a Hamas security complex and smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border on Sunday, the latest of several outbreaks of violence that have strained a ceasefire that went into effect on January 18.

There were no reported casualties in the air strikes, the Israeli military said. The attacks followed the firing of about a dozen rockets and mortar bombs into southern Israel on Sunday, which wounded two Israeli soldiers and a civilian.

Israeli aircraft went into action hours after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened a "disproportionate" response to the rockets. Israel carried out its Gaza campaign with the declared aim of ending such attacks by militants.

A wing of al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group belonging to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, said it had launched some of the rockets, but not all were claimed.

"We know that most of this fire is not from Hamas but from other, smaller groups. However, Hamas bears responsibility," Barak told Israel Radio on Monday. "Hamas has to act to stop this."

Taher al-Nono, a spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, urged all factions on Sunday to "respect the national consensus" on the ceasefire, which the Islamist group declared two weeks ago after Israel said it was halting its assault on Gaza.

With U.S. backing, Egypt is seeking a long-term truce deal that would end Hamas weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip and also lead to a reopening of the enclave's border crossings, one of Hamas's main demands.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after Hamas Islamists seized the territory from the Western-backed Abbas in 2007.

Since the truce was declared, in addition to Sunday's injuries, one Israeli soldier was killed and three others were wounded when a bomb exploded next to their patrol. Israeli air strikes have killed three Palestinians and wounded 10.

During Israel's 22-day offensive, at least 1,300 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, including 700 civilians, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.