JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday ruled out a broad military operation in the Gaza Strip, deflecting rising anger after an 8-year-old boy lost a leg in a Palestinian rocket attack.
But Israel's top diplomat warned that Hamas rulers in Gaza foment violence and that it will be impossible to reach a peace agreement as long as that continues.
"Anger is not an operational plan," Olmert said in response to an outcry by some politicians and residents for a full-scale invasion of northern Gaza to take over the areas where militants have been launching the rockets. There were calls from the Cabinet for assassinating Hamas political leaders.
Residents of the battered town of Sderot near Gaza blocked the main highway entrance into Jerusalem as the Cabinet met.
They demanded government action after doctors amputated Osher Twito's leg following a rocket attack that also wounded his 19-year-old brother.
"He loves playing soccer, but he will never play again," Osher's mother, Iris Twito, wailed on Channel 2 TV. "How can he play now, with no leg?"
Over the weekend, with growing defiance and confidence, Hamas militants called on Israelis to flee from border towns as the rockets rained down.
The two brothers were wounded Saturday night when a rocket exploded next to them in Sderot, one of dozens that hit in and near the town of 20,000 less than half a mile from the fence around Gaza.
The boy's injury galvanized Israeli outrage.
"We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map," Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit said after warning citizens to flee.
At nightfall, about 20 Israeli army vehicles rolled into northern Gaza, where most of the rockets are fired, witnesses said. In an exchange of gunfire at the border, a Palestinian militant was killed.
Late yesterday, Palestinians fired a rocket at Israel, only the second of the day, compared with dozens in the previous days.
In a public statement at the beginning of the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting, Olmert said the surge in Palestinian rocket attacks is a response to Israel's own military strikes. He said 200 Gaza militants have been killed in recent months by the Israeli military and security.
As the demonstrators from Sderot approached his office, Olmert insisted he would not act out of anger.
"We must act in a systematic and orderly fashion over time," he said.
Olmert promised that Israel "will continue to reach all the responsible terrorists, including those who dispatch and operate them."
Up to now, Israeli military strikes have been aimed at rocket squads and militant leaders.
Livni told The Associated Press that while Gaza militants are targeting civilians, "Israel, according to international law, has the right and duty to defend its citizens."
Livni, who heads Israel's team negotiating a peace agreement with Abbas's government, said such an agreement would be impossible as long as Hamas rules Gaza and foments violence.