Olmert to continue 'war' on militants

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Israel's prime minister yesterday pledged war against Gaza militants, rejecting feelers from the Islamic Hamas for a truce, while an Israeli Cabinet minister angered moderate Palestinians with another plan for new Jewish housing in a disputed part of Jerusalem, complicating renewed peace talks.

"There is no other way to describe what is happening in the Gaza Strip except as a true war between the Israeli army and terrorist elements," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his Cabinet, ruling out truce talks.

Reports of truce feelers from the embattled Islamic Hamas regime in Gaza have been surfacing almost daily, and Israeli defense officials have said they are examining the proposals.

The unconfirmed reports have Hamas convincing fellow militants in Gaza to stop their daily rocket fire at southern Israel, while Israel halts its air and ground operations in Gaza.

Speaking to his Cabinet at Sunday's weekly meeting, Olmert rejected negotiations with Hamas because it has rejected international demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and endorse past peace accords.

"We have declared (this war) and we will continue," Olmert said at the beginning of the meeting, which reporters are allowed to attend. "This is true regarding Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all other elements.."

Despite their overt rejections of a formal cease-fire, Israeli officials have been saying a formal truce is unnecessary. They say if Gaza militants stop the rocket fire, Israel would have no reason to attack.

Israeli airstrikes over a two-day period last week killed 12, including two top Islamic Jihad commanders. The truce feelers started surfacing a day later, first in a call from Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh to an Israeli TV reporter and later, according to officials, by way of Egypt, which has mediated several other past truces.

Islamic Jihad, which is behind most of the rocket salvos, yesterday again rejected a truce with Israel. Israel doubts whether Hamas has either the willingness or the ability to force the other militants to stop firing rockets. By nightfall four rockets fired from Gaza exploded in Israel. One damaged a factory near the Israeli city of Ashkelon, the military said.

Israeli officials said Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel this week to Egypt for talks with President Hosni Mubarak. It was unclear whether a cease-fire would be on the agenda.