STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And now, let's get the Israeli view on the conflict from Sallai Meridor. He's Israel's ambassador to Washington. He's one of a number of voices we're hearing this week from all sides of the conflict. Welcome to the program to you, sir.
Ambassador SALLAI MERIDOR (Israeli Ambassador to Washington): Good morning to you. Thank you for having me.
INSKEEP: And he's talking with us live. Would you just tell us why Israel is opposed to this proposed 48-hour cease-fire?
Ambassador MERIDOR: Well, we are, as you know, for peace and for calm. And the ones who started this fire and denounced the - breaking the cease-fire were Hamas. What we are interested in is a durable and sustainable arrangement where no rockets are being fired at Israel and no terrorist buildup is being made under the cover of calm.
INSKEEP: But why no cease-fire?
Ambassador MERIDOR: As I said before, what we're interested for is something that would be durable and sustainable, something that would not be used by the terrorists in order to extend the range and their deadly capacities, something that will not put, now close to a million, Israelis under daily threat and active action of terror.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, let me ask you about something you said. You said Hamas broke this cease-fire. The Israeli version of events here is there was this cease-fire, it lasted several months, it expired, and Hamas was firing rockets into Israel, which provoked the Israeli response. That is the Israeli version, but also on this program today we're hearing from Mustafa Bargudi. He's an independent Palestinian politician, as you know, and he says, actually it was Israel, not Hamas that violated that cease-fire. Let's listen.
(Soundbite of interview)
Mr. MUSTAFA BARGUDI (Independent Palestinian Politician): There was a cease-fire, which was supposed to stay for six months. And after the fourth month, the Israeli Army started to strike Gaza, including, of course, assassination of people in the West Bank. And we've been warning that such attacks will provoke, definitely, a reaction.
INSKEEP: Has Israel actually been going after Hamas for several months here?
Ambassador MERIDOR: Well, this is - you know, you should just look at the facts. Hamas, themselves, announced on December 19th that they were terminating the cease-fire. So there is not any question here about who put an end to the cease-fire. They, after having said that and before Israel had to defend itself, launched 400 rockets and mortar attacks in Israel, refused to listen to our call, to our prime minister appeal to the Palestinians in Gaza not to continue firing at Israelis.
So the question of who was violating this calm agree - arrangement and who was launching rockets is very clear. The sole responsibility lies with Hamas. And what we're looking for is really a situation where Israelis can live with no daily fear and without being attacked, like yesterday, a kindergarten in Be'er Sheva.
Today, just minutes before we are talking, civilians in the city of Ashkelon - we're actually close to one million Israelis under this fire. The situation, the status quo that Hamas wanted to impose, which is that on one hand the Israelis are under fire, in the meantime, they can't shoot, immuned(ph) and uninterrupted and build terrible deadly capacity. This just cannot be continued, maintained, or allowed. As I've...
INSKEEP: Ambassador, Ambassador...
Ambassador MERIDOR: Anybody would agree.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, if I may interrupt you. Forgive me, a couple of other questions. We've just got a little bit of time before we have to go away.
Ambassador MERIDOR: Sure.
INSKEEP: One of them is this; Palestinians are telling us this week that they think Israel's attacks on Hamas have actually strengthened the hand, politically, of Hamas. Are you worried about strengthening Hamas in the same way that Israel's war in Lebanon was said to strengthen Hezbollah in 2006?
Ambassador MERIDOR: Look, our purpose is to assure and protect the lives of our people. This is not a grand political scheme here. We're talking about something very basic, something that any one of us if thought about himself, or children - his children or her children, or parents, being on such a terrible attack.
INSKEEP: I understand about the missile attacks, but do you think you're strengthening the hand of Hamas politically? Is that a side effect?
Ambassador MERIDOR: We're seeing, and we know, that over the last three, four days, we were hitting headquarters of Hamas, manufacturing of missile facilities, storage houses of ammunition, tunnels to which they were smuggling weapons and explosives from Iran into Gaza.
So, we believe we do our utmost duty to damage their terrorist infrastructure and long-term capacity to inflict terror into Israel, and destroy any chance for calm and for peace.
INSKEEP: And when do you - when will you know that you're done?
Ambassador MERIDOR: Well, I think that this is a quite simple question to answer. If I may suggest, if Hamas were to stop using Gaza to build terror base and to attack Israel every day, there would not be any need for Israeli defensive action. We were not initiating this, we were very, very restrained. We tried every effort possible in order not to have to take such defensive actions, but...
INSKEEP: Ambassador, thanks very much.
Ambassador MERIDOR: It came to a point that there was no choice.
INSKEEP: Ambassador, forgive me for stopping you there, but thank you very much for taking the time.
Ambassador MERIDOR: I wish you a good morning, and I hope that everybody in Israel and in the Palestinian territories will have peace and calm.
INSKEEP: Sallai Meridor is Israel's ambassador to the United States and one of many voices we are hearing about the conflict on Morning Edition from NPR News.
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