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Israel Leader Warns of HarshMeasures to Counter Terrorism

By Steven Erlanger
THE NEW YORK TIMES


JERUSALEM

Israel’s acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, warned Palestinians on Thursday that Israel would use “far-reaching measures” and “an iron fist against any attempt to resume terrorist activity,” whether in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Olmert spoke as a new opinion poll showed his Kadima Party continuing to slip less than a month before March 28 elections, but still comfortably on course to form a new Israeli government. The Haaretz-Channel 10 poll indicates that Kadima would win 37 of the Parliament’s 120 seats, down two from a similar poll taken in February and 7 from the end of January.

Olmert said at a news conference that he had ordered airstrikes against Palestinians involved in firing Qassam rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. “Not a few times, terrorists who were about to fire rockets were liquidated before they could fire them, and it was based on my orders, sometimes my personal orders,” he said.

In another indication of tough responses in the face of the victory of the militant Islamic group Hamas in the Jan. 25 Palestinian elections, the defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, ordered that the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel, the main crossing for agricultural and manufactured goods, remain closed, citing continued danger of a terrorist attack there.

Officials said Wednesday that Karni would be reopened on Thursday so food and aid could be brought to Gaza after international agencies warned that some food supplies were dwindling. Karni has been closed off and on and continuously since Feb. 21, after a mysterious explosion.

While Olmert, at his news conference, said that Israel “respects” Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, “we are nevertheless disappointed by the fact that instead of fighting terrorism, he has appointed the leader of terrorism as the candidate for prime minister,” a reference to Ismail Haniya, a Hamas leader who is trying to form a new government. Olmert rejected Abbas’ call for peace talks with him.

But the leader of the Labor Party, Amir Peretz, who has argued that Abbas and other Palestinian “moderates” must be supported, met with Abbas on Thursday at the Allenby Bridge crossing into Jordan in what he called a “message that we do not lose hope.”

Peretz, whose party has been stagnant in the polls at 19 seats, praised Abbas and said at their meeting that “he perceives terrorism as the enemy of both nations.”

On Thursday, Abbas stepped back from comments he had made to the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, which quoted him as saying that al-Qaida already was present in Palestinian areas. But he said, “We have information, yet to be confirmed, that al-Qaida, just as it sends its operatives to Jordan and other countries like Saudi Arabia and others, also might send us operatives for sabotage.”

In an earlier interview with Al-Jazeera television, Abbas said he intended to transfer broad security powers to the future Hamas-led government, though the general intelligence branch would remain subject to the presidency. “We’ll grant Hamas authority over the Palestinians’ national security because we need to have one body controlling the situation to ensure security,” he said.