Hamas attacks will spark reprisal, Israel says
Livni rules out contacts with rulers of Gaza
HERZLIYA, Israel - Israel's foreign minister threatened yesterday to keep hitting Hamas as long as it attacks Israel, ruling out negotiations with the Islamic rulers of Gaza just eight days before national elections in which she is running for prime minister.
Tzipi Livni made her tough statement as a Hamas delegation headed for Cairo for talks today with Egyptian mediators on a long-term truce with Israel. The talks build on a two-week informal cease-fire that followed Israel's bruising offensive in Gaza.
Events yesterday underlined the urgency of the talks in Cairo. An Israeli missile hit a car in the town of Rafah, killing a Palestinian militant, hours after warplanes bombed the nearby Gaza-Egypt border in an effort to destroy tunnels that Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons and supplies.
The Israeli military said the target of the airstrike was a car carrying militants who fired mortars at Israel.
Palestinian officials said a militant in the car was killed and another was wounded, along with two bystanders.
The attacks were retaliation for more than a dozen rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza on Sunday.
The fire decreased considerably yesterday, with the military saying that two mortar shells exploded at a border crossing in southern Gaza during the day.
In Cairo, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group, which calls for the destruction of Israel, would make its decision about a truce after a final round of talks with Egyptian mediators expected today. The Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo late last night.
He said the delegation would listen to "the summary of the Egyptian contacts and talks that have been conducted with the Israelis or other concerned parties."
Israel and Hamas refuse to deal directly with each other.
In Syria, Mohammed Nasr, a member of the exiled leadership of Hamas, said the group was ready for a one-year truce with Israel in exchange for reopening the Gaza Strip's borders and lifting the economic blockade.
The crossings, Gaza's main economic lifeline, have largely been closed since Hamas violently seized control of the territory in June 2007 from forces supporting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration is now limited to the West Bank.
Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Egypt reject outside forces patrolling their border, while Israel is hesitant to reopen any border crossings, concerned that militants and explosives could be smuggled into Israel and weapons into Gaza.
Continued violence could work against Israel's outgoing government in the Feb. 10 elections and bolster hard-line opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seen as the front-runner.
Netanyahu has called for Israel to oust Hamas from power in Gaza. In a speech yesterday at an annual security conference sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center, Livni did not go that far, but she was clear in her refusal to deal directly with the Islamic militants.
Hamas does not accept a place for a Jewish state in an Islamic Middle East and has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel.
A Hamas political leader based in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, was in Iran on Sunday and yesterday, where he met the country's top leaders to thank them for their support during the Gaza offensive.
He called his movement's most powerful ally a "partner in victory."
Also yesterday, in Paris, Abbas backed Egypt-led efforts to bring calm, warning that the cease-fire in Gaza remains fragile.
Abbas met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy as part of his effort to drum up diplomatic support for a unity government of Palestinian factions and to push for a role in rebuilding Gaza.
Livni, meanwhile, threatened to renew Israel's offensive if the attacks from Gaza were to continue.
"If by ending the operation we have yet to achieve deterrence, we will continue until they get the message," she said.
Livni called for Israel to pursue peace with moderate Palestinians and Arab states.
"If we don't draft an initiative in Hebrew, it will be dictated to us in Arabic, French or English," she warned.