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      MK Calls for Gaza Ground Offensive as Airstrikes Continue

      Likud MK Yuval Shteinitz is calling for a Gaza ground offensive to halt the barrage of Kassam rockets on Israeli towns. PM Olmert stated that targeted anti-terror airstrikes will continue.
      By Alex Traiman
      First Publish: 6/25/2006, 6:35 AM / Last Update: 6/23/2006, 12:53 PM

      In his speech at the Caesarea Economic Conference in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated, “Israel will continue to carry out targeted attacks against terrorists and those who try to harm Israeli citizens.”

      Israel has recently increased air strikes into Gaza due to the non-stop Kassam rocket attacks on southern Israeli towns near the border with Gaza.

      Three Kassam rockets were fired Thursday evening, one damaging a hothouse in Netiv HaAsarah. Two more were launched in the vicinity of Sderot Friday morning. Sderot residents are marching to Jerusalem beginning Monday in protest of the government’s failure to halt the attacks on their city.

      Shteinitz, former chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, has called for a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to eliminate terrorist infrastructure and rocket launching capabilities.

      In an interview on Voice of Israel Radio, Shteinitz stated, "I call on the Israeli government not to wait any longer and to begin a comprehensive ground operation in Gaza in order to fundamentally damage the terror infrastructure in a few weeks."

      Shteinitz compared the suggested operation to the successful Operation Defensive Shield launched in 2002 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into Arab-controlled areas located in the Jewish provinces of Judea and Samaria.

      That operation lasted less than three weeks, and halted a string of suicide terror attacks including a massive bombing at a hotel in Netanya during a Passover Seder.

      Former Defense Minister and Likud party member Moshe Arens believes that an air offensive is incapable of ending rocket attacks, and Israel must reclaim parts of the Gaza Strip that were ceded to terrorists during the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the region last August.

      "Israel leads in ballistic interception technology, but the trajectory of Kassams is just too short to make interception possible," Arens wrote in the Haaretz daily Hebrew newspaper. "The obvious move to cut down on this danger is for the IDF to reoccupy unilaterally some of the areas in the northern Gaza Strip that were so foolishly abandoned unilaterally last August."

      Despite the failure of air strikes to halt rocket launches, members of the current defense establishment are trying to avoid a ground invasion into Gaza. Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedy, Commander of the Israeli Air Force, told Haaretz, “The air operations, which we carry out daily, are nearly the only way to operate in Gaza. The other option is a land operation, and we must do everything possible to avoid that.”

      Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is criticizing Israel for civilian fatalities caused by the air strikes. A statement from PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ office condemned the IDF’s preventive attacks.

      "The increased frequency of women and children falling victims to Israeli missiles, in an age of very precise electronic warfare, indicates a deliberate intention on the Israeli part to target every Palestinian and to cause maximum human, physical, and psychological damage," the statement claimed.

      The defense establishment has noted that the civilian deaths are due primarily to the fact that terrorists have made a concerted effort to concentrate their activities in Arab population centers, increasing the likelihood of bystander casualties.

      The IAF goes to great lengths to reduce the chance of civilian injuries, and has launched investigations into each air strike which has killed any Arabs that were not the intended terrorist targets.

      In his Caesarea conference address, Olmert apologized “from the depths of my being” for the Arab fatalities, but added, "I value the lives and the welfare of the residents of Sderot as much, if not more than the residents of Gaza.”