GAZA, (Reuters) – An Israeli air strike killed four militants in the Gaza Strip on Sunday and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he had commissioned a plan for military action in the Hamas-run territory should rocket attacks on Israel persist.
“I ordered security chiefs to present their proposals to me as soon as possible so that an orderly plan of action could, if necessary, be brought to the decision-makers in the government for approval,” Olmert told his cabinet, in broadcast remarks. But he appeared to rule out any immediate move towards significantly stronger Israeli military action, saying that despite “soaring emotions and hot blood”, his government would examine the situation and act in a “calm and settled” manner.
Olmert said Israel could not tolerate rocket salvoes during “a so-called calm”, but he stopped short of declaring dead a five-month-old, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas tested by a flare-up of violence over the past two weeks. He gave no indication that Israel would soon lift its closure of the territory’s borders to humanitarian aid, including food distributed by the United Nations to 750,000 needy Palestinians and fuel for Gaza’s sole power plant.
Both the United Nations and the European Union have urged Israel to let aid supplies through.
Hours before the cabinet began its weekly meeting, two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit an open field in southern Israel, causing no casualties.
The attack was followed by an air strike in the northern Gaza Strip against what the Israeli military said was a squad of militants preparing to fire across the border.
The Popular Resistance Committees militant group said the four men killed by the aircraft were in its military wing.
Israeli officials have said a large-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip to try to curb rocket attacks would cause heavy casualties on both sides. Such an assault would pose political risks for members of Olmert’s coalition cabinet as a Feb. 10 parliament election approaches.
Olmert resigned in September but serves as a caretaker prime minister until a new government is formed after the ballot.
Israel and Hamas traded blame for the continuing violence.
Hamas’s spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, said: “We have the right to respond to Zionist attacks. The Israeli government wrecked the truce and failed to meet any of its understandings.”
At least 17 Palestinian militants have been killed since Nov. 4, when Israel raided the Gaza Strip to destroy a tunnel it said gunmen were planning to use to seize a soldier.