JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday rejected a plan by military leaders here to allow the Israeli Defense Forces to take out Palestinian militants it catches in the process of launching rockets from the Gaza Strip into nearby Jewish cities, WND has learned.

IDF leaders charged Olmert was “damaging” Israeli security.

Following a cease-fire imposed in Gaza Nov. 26, Olmert has restrained the IDF from taking any defensive measures to stop the regular firing of Palestinian Qassam rockets into Israeli communities.

Since the truce went into effect, nearly 50 rockets were fired from Gaza.

Yesterday, the IDF spotted militants in the northern Gaza Strip setting up rocket launchers, military sources told WND. Two rockets then were fired into Israel. One landed near Sderot, a large city about 3 miles from Gaza; the second landed in an open field near Gaza.

As WND reported, the IDF several times last week spotted militants in the process of launching rockets but the military was unable to take any action. Olmert’s government changed the rules of engagement following the cease-fire. Now, if Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are caught launching rockets at Jewish cities, the Israeli military is forbidden to respond.

Previously, the IDF used artillery units and aerial strikes against militants discovered in the process of launching rockets.

“We are frustrated just watching the rocket launchers being set up. There is nothing we are allowed to do,” said a military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

“So far we’ve been lucky, but soon one of the rockets will kill someone and then questions should be asked about why we weren’t allowed to do anything,” the source said.

Military leaders told WND defense officials, backed by Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, yesterday petitioned Olmert at a security cabinet meeting to ease some of the limitations on the army and to allow the military to take out Palestinian rocket crews in Gaza it catches setting up for attacks.

The military leaders said Olmert rejected the plan, stating he had confidence Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would act against the Gaza rocket crews.

Olmert said his policy of restraint in the face of Palestinian cease fire violations would continue to “give peace a chance,” according to the military leaders, who were present at the meeting.

Olmert said he discussed the issue of Palestinian rockets at a meeting Saturday with Abbas.

Olmert and Abbas met in Jerusalem to discuss Israeli-Palestinian cooperation and Palestinian infighting that has been waging since Abbas last weekend called for new elections in a move widely seen as an attempt to dismantle the Hamas-led government.

Olmert reportedly agreed to a series of concessions to help bolster Abbas, including the transfer of $100 million in frozen taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinian government and the removal of some security checkpoints in the northern West Bank. The checkpoints are regularly credited by the IDF with helping to stop Palestinian terrorists attempting to infiltrate Jewish cities.

Israeli political sources told WND Olmert also agreed to freeze Jewish construction in the West Bank and to bulldoze Jewish communities in the territory reportedly built without government authorization.

Olmert said he plans to hold several future meetings with Abbas in light of what he said was progress made Saturday.

Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Israeli radio yesterday Olmert’s meeting with Abbas could provide an opportunity to carry out the prime minister’s plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank.

“An opportunity has been created [for West Bank withdrawal], certainly. I don’t want to say that it’s a done deal. But this is an important opening, one that should not be dismissed,” Peres said.

The West Bank runs alongside Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Israel’s international airport.

Olmert didn’t consult army before implementing cease-fire

Meanwhile, defense officials here are charging the cease-fire in Gaza is damaging Israel’s security.

The truce called for a halt of smuggling activity by Palestinian groups in Gaza. It also called for a cessation of rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants in Gaza aiming at nearby Jewish communities in exchange for Israel withdrawing its ground troops from the Strip and halting military activity in the territory.

Earlier this month, IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz told Israel’s Knesset that Olmert did not fully consult with the Israeli army before agreeing to the cease-fire with Palestinian militants.

IDF sources and several prominent Knesset members said the cease-fire is allowing Palestinian groups to continue smuggling weapons into Gaza. They said the truce would provide downtime for militants to train for attacks against Israel.

The IDF has been petitioning for a large-scale assault in Gaza.

The officials said that according to IDF assessments, the best options to stop the daily rocket fire from Gaza into nearby Jewish communities and to halt the regular smuggling of weapons from neighboring Egypt include drafted plans to retake parts of Gaza.

They said other options presented to the Israeli government for a large-scale Gaza assault focusing on dismantling the terror infrastructure inside the Gaza Strip have also been rejected by Olmert.

Terrorists: Cease-fire means chance to reload

In a series of WND exclusive interviews conducted immediately after last month’s cease-fire was finalized, leaders of the four largest Palestinian terror groups in Gaza said the new truce will be used to smuggle weapons into Gaza; reinforce and train “fighter units”; and produce rockets for a future confrontation with the Jewish state.

“The cease-fire offers a period of calm for our fighters to recover and prepare for our final goal of evacuating Palestine,” said Abu Abir, spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, a Hamas-allied terror organization in the Gaza Strip responsible for many of the recent rocket attacks against Israeli communities.

“We will keep fighting [Israel], but for the moment we will postpone certain parts of the military struggle,” said Abu Abir. “We will reinforce very quickly and rush what we are doing to prepare [for attacks against Israel] in Gaza and in the West Bank.”

Abu Abdullah, a senior leader of Hamas’ so-called “military wing,” told WND Hamas agreed to the cease-fire “because we need a period of calm to recuperate. This lull in fighting will not bring us to speak about peace.”

Abu Abdullah is considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ declared military wing.

He pointed to Hamas’ doctrine, which calls for the destruction of Israel and which refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

“The political leadership (of Hamas) will never compromise on these values,” the terror leader said.

Abu Abdullah said Hamas has its own political reasons to respect the truce.

“We wish to show Islam as a ruling party is capable of leading the Palestinian people,” he said. “Since Hamas was elected, we have been through only chaotic periods. We want a period of calm to prove we are not only a revolutionary movement but to show the Palestinian people our rule is without the corruption of (the rival) Fatah (party).”

But Abu Abdullah said the cease-fire would ultimately end in violence.

“All the Palestinian people and all the Muslims will launch a direct confrontation with Israel. This may come soon or it may take some time,” Abu Abdullah said.

Abu Luay, a leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza, told WND Israel’s call for a cease-fire “proves our rocket attacks work. The Zionists know there is now remedy for our rockets.”

The Islamic Jihad leader said Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel would resume “at a time of our choosing.”

Abu Ahmed, the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in the northern Gaza Strip, told WND his terror group would respect the cease-fire.

The Brigades, responsible for scores of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks, is the declared military wing of Abbas’ Fatah party.

“We will respect the cease-fire as the president (Abbas) has ordered us to do,” said Abu Ahmed. “We keep our right to respond to any Israeli aggression. Our group does not give up any of its ideals, which is a withdrawal of the Israelis.”

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