JERUSALEM (JTA) -- No country should have to live under constant threat of missile barrages, Ehud Olmert told the Israeli people.
In an address Saturday night, Israel's prime minister, flanked by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, asked the Israeli public to unite around the Israel Defense Forces operation that began in Gaza earlier in the day.
"The lives of our citizens are not forfeit," Olmert said. "In recent days, it became clear that Hamas is bent on conflict. Whoever heard Hamas' statements understood that they decided to increase attacks on the residents of Israel by firing rockets and mortars indiscriminately. In such a situation we had no alternative but to respond. We do not rejoice in battle but neither will we be deterred from it."
Olmert warned the public that the number of missiles may increase in the near future and could reach to more distant communities than ever before.
Olmert also said that he heart went out to the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who reportedly has been held in Gaza since his capture in 2006.
The prime minister warned neighboring countries not to use the Gaza operation as an excuse to launch their own attacks.
"Israel is currently focusing on striking at the terrorist organizations that are operating to undermine stability in the entire region. I hope that no other element in the region will think that while Israel is fighting in the south, that it is inattentive to what is happening in other areas," Olmert warned. "We will not hesitate to respond to any aggression against us."
Israel launches major Gaza operation
(JTA) - Israel began moving tanks to the Gaza area in advance of a possible ground attack.
The movement of tanks and ground troops on Saturday night followed a massive retaliatory Israeli bombing campaign that has killed close to 200 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them Hamas militants.
The wave of air-launched bombs Saturday was in retaliation for the recent intensification of rocket-launches from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group. On some days, more than 50 rockets have been aimed at towns and farms in southern Israel.
Militants in Gaza responded by firing at least 30 rockets; one killed an Israeli resident of the town of Netivot. Hamas reported that almost all of its security installations were hit and threatened suicide attacks in retaliation.
Israel dropped at least 100 tons of bombs in the raids. "There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting," Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, said in a news conference.
Reports from Gaza said most of the dead were affiliated with the security forces, including Gaza City's police chief, although a number of the casualties were civilians. Hamas officials said at least 140 of the dead belonged to the terrorist group's militias.
U.S. blames Hamas for violence
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- The Bush administration blamed Hamas for the escalation of violence on the Israel-Gaza Strip border and noted the humanitarian needs of Gazans.
Israel launched massive air raids Saturday in retaliation for an intensification of rocket attacks from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group.
"The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The ceasefire should be restored immediately," a U.S. State Department statement said. "The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza."
News accounts said between 150 and 200 people were killed in the Israeli raids, most of them members of Hamas militias. At least one Israeli was killed when a rocket from Gaza struck his house Saturday.