Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday authorized the Israeli army to resume a policy of targeted assassinations against what he called 'rocket-launching cells' of Palestinian resistance fighters. Although he termed the assassination policy 'pinpoint attacks' against the fighters, such assassinations have been widely criticized in the past by human rights groups for the high number of civilian casualties they inflict.
The Israeli decision came shortly after a Qassam home made shell
injured two Israeli teenagers in Sderot, a town in southern Israel,
on Tuesday. Palestinian resistance fighters in Gaza said that the
shells are in response to Israeli army attacks, mostly in the West
Bank, which have killed 15 Palestinians in the past month.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a Palestinian government
spokesperson both responded to Olmert's decision by urging Palestinian
resistance factions and the Israeli army to uphold the November 26th
ceasefire in Gaza.
A spokesperson for the Hamas government stated, "We still believe that
this agreement is alive, and both sides should respect this agreement
because it is in the interest of our people," but warned that "there is
a risk the calm will be blown away by the wind."
Sa'eb Erekat, of the chief Palestine Negotiation teams with Israeli and
a senior aide to Abbas, also urged both sides to hold to the ceasefire.
"Our past experience taught us that violence begets violence and
bullets beget bullets," he said.
Olmert's office released a statement that said that despite allowing
the Israeli army to fire on shells-launching cells, Israel will still
try to preserve the ceasefire agreement. "Israel will continue to
maintain the ceasefire and work with the Palestinian Authority so that
immediate steps are taken to halt the Qassam firings," the statement
In the past few days Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz had been
pressuring Olmert to end the Israeli policy of restraint in Gaza, which
had been adopted after the cease-fire. After the Qassam attack in Sedierot on Tuesday he told Olmert, "We cannot continue to restrain
ourselves." Peretz believes that firing on "terror cells" in
"unpopulated areas" will not endanger the cease-fire agreement.
Armed Palestinian resistance groups threatened to continue their
attacks as long as the Israeli army continues its attacks against
Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. "Stop the attacks in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip immediately or expect more rockets on Sedierot and on
Ashkelon and beyond," said a press release from Al-Quds Brigades, the armed
wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, referring to Israeli towns near
the Gaza Strip. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah,
stated that without a truce in the West Bank, Ashkelon and Sedierot,
"will never feel secure"
Israeli government opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the
right-wing Likud party told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the Israeli
Army should occupy parts of the Gaza Strip, which would be in violation
of the cease-fire agreement. He criticized the cease-fire, saying that
an "error is to declare a unilateral cease-fire that essentially allows
them to fire at us and demonstrates weakness." Netanyahu called on the
Israeli government to bring about the fall of the
democratically-elected Palestinian government, led by Hamas.