Israeli Ambassador Outlines Demands

Israel seeks a new situation on the ground, says Sallai Meridor, Israel's ambassador to the United States. He says in order for Israel to agree to a cease-fire, the rocket fire from Hamas must stop and Iran should not be allowed to build a terror base on Israel's border.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And now, Ambassador Sallai Meridor, who is Israel's ambassador to Washington. Welcome to the program once again.

Ambassador SALLAI MERIDOR (Israeli Ambassador to the United States): Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: We hear talk of a durable and sustainable ceasefire. Would Israel enter into a ceasefire if you had the assurance from Hamas that they would stop firing rockets?

Amb. MERIDOR: Well, we need to have a new situation on the ground where on the one hand, there is no more rockets and our civilians are not under tremendous barrage of rockets, and at the same time, that Iran is not allowed to continue to build a terror base on our border.

SIEGEL: When we've asked Israeli spokesmen, is the aim here to put Hamas out of power in Gaza, Israel has said that is not an articulated aim of this operation. But it all sounds like the result of this operation, a success by Israel's terms, will be ousting Hamas from power in Gaza.

Amb. MERIDOR: Our purpose is to bring about a different situation. If you ask me about our larger purpose is to live in peace, and we'd love to have peace with our Palestinian neighbors. Our problem is that Hamas is committed to destruction of Israel and refuses to recognize the very existence of the state of Israel. So, in absence of a partner in Gaza that is willing to live in peace with us, the most we can look for is a durable and sustainable calm. And we would take the necessary measures in order to reach such an outcome.

SIEGEL: Would you favor...

Amb. MERIDOR: What - so, our purpose, if I may be more direct to your question, which I'm sure is well-deserved, is our purpose is not to uproot Hamas, even though for the Palestinians, this would have been a very good future. Our purpose is to make sure the people are not every day under barrage of rockets.

SIEGEL: Would you welcome an international force in Gaza that would monitor security and the performance of the armed force there?

Amb. MERIDOR: Well, this is too early to tell. I think that what we've learned from different situations, international or any kind of goodwill ambassadors are basically efficient when they monitor a situation that is acceptable to the parties involved. So, the basic thing is here is not this layer of monitors or observers or whatever one want to call them; it is bringing about a situation that - where Hamas understands that they have to accept that they cannot anymore fire and they cannot anymore build a threat of fire. And this can be created only when they understand that the status quo ante that they were trying to impose on all of us, Israelis and Palestinians alike, is unacceptable.

SIEGEL: Would Israeli permit open passages in and out of Gaza, or at least into Gaza, in exchange for that?

Amb. MERIDOR: Well, I think this is not the issue right now. The issue right now, as I told you, is stopping the acts of terror and preventing the creation of such a terror base with extended ranges and extended threats.

SIEGEL: Is Israel today talking with President Abbas and with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank? Does Israel see them as interlocutors over what will be negotiated in Gaza ultimately?

Amb. MERIDOR: We have a very significant process with the Palestinian Authority, both in terms of changing the reality on the ground in the West Bank and at the same time having political negotiations for the future, with the hope to reach a situation with two states living in peace side by side, a Palestinian state living in security and peace and dignity alongside the state of Israel. And this is our strategic goal, but part of this effort is to make sure the enemies of this outcome of peace cannot prevail.

SIEGEL: Israeli ambassador to Washington, Sallai Meridor. Ambassador Meridor, thank you.

Amb. MERIDOR: Thank you very much.

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Gaza Strikes Spur Protests, Vows Of Retaliation

Israeli warplanes pounded Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, while the Islamist group buried its dead, including a senior leader killed Thursday.

Israel says the airstrikes will continue until Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel. The Gaza death toll now stands at approximately 430. Hamas rocket attacks in southern Israel on Friday caused some property damage, but no fatalities.

Prospects For Cease-Fire

The ongoing airstrikes and the death Thursday of Nizar Rayan, a senior figure in Hamas, appear only to have hardened the Islamist group against any cease-fire and sparked wider calls for reprisal attacks, including suicide bombings.

"After this heinous crime, all options are open for the resistance to curb the aggression, including martyrdom operations and striking Israeli interests in all places," said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

Civilians in Gaza were shaken by more bombings.

Electricity remained spotty, and few ventured out into the rubble-strewn streets except to wait in long lines for bread. Israel struck more than 40 Hamas targets Friday, the army says. Hamas fired off more than 30 rockets. Doctors say nine people were killed in Gaza Friday, including five children. No Israelis were seriously injured, police say.

Some Allowed To Leave Gaza

The White House again blamed Hamas for the crisis but also called on Israel to avoid killing civilians and to boost aid to the territory's beleaguered citizens. Israel let several hundred people — mainly Palestinians — with foreign passports leave Gaza.

"This morning, Israel facilitated the exit from Gaza of foreign nationals who want to leave," said Mark Regev, the Israeli prime minister's spokesman. "We are acting very energetically with the international community to facilitate the inflow into Gaza of foods and medicine."

At the same time, Israel continued to bar foreign journalists from entering Gaza, despite a ruling this week by the Israeli Supreme Court to allow some reporters to enter every time Israel opens up the crossing.

Palestinian Infighting

Meanwhile, protests broke out in several Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank on Friday as Hamas urged supporters to observe a "day of rage" over the Israeli bombardment.

In Ramallah after Friday prayers, Omar Barghouti was among several thousand who marched through downtown streets. He said the bombings in Gaza had helped unite Palestinian factions around a common enemy.

"We're pushing for national unity. Without unity there will be no Hamas and no Fatah," Barghouti said. "Both factions have the objective of liberating Palestine. Anybody who idealizes one faction over another is mistaken. Factionalism will get us nowhere."

But while there were chants of "unity, unity," Palestinian police worked hard to keep the Fatah and Hamas supporters separated and repeatedly cracked down on pro-Hamas demonstrators. At one point, a Hamas man called a pro-Fatah protester "a traitor," sparking a fistfight; shots were fired into the air. A few people were injured in scuffles.

Israeli Soldiers Taunted

In an uncharacteristic way, Palestinian riot police and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank were united Friday in their quest to crack down hard on Palestinians seething over the Israeli bombing of Gaza. After getting roughed up by their own police force in Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinian teens and young adults made their way over to an Israeli checkpoint where they were greeted with rubber bullets and tear gas.

At the entrance to Qalandiya, a massive, walled checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, teenagers threw rocks, burned tires and taunted Israeli soldiers who responded with round after round of tear gas.

Israel declared a general closure of the West Bank through the weekend. The move, which severely restricts the movement of Palestinians, is aimed at reining in protests and violence. Israel also has added mobile checkpoints and bolstered security throughout Jerusalem and entrances to the city fearing more protests and reprisal attacks over its ongoing bombing of Gaza.

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