By Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondent and Haaretz Service
Commanders of the French contingent of the United Nations force in Lebanon have warned that they might have to open fire if Israel Air Force warplanes continue their overflights in Lebanon, Defense Minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday.
Peretz said that nevertheless, Israel would continue to patrol the skies over Lebanon as long as United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 remained unfilfilled, adding that such operations were critical for the country’s security, especially as the abducted IDF soldiers remain in Hezbollah custody and the transfer of arms continue.
Over the past few days, Peretz said, Israel had gathered clear evidence that Syria was transfering arms and ammunition to Lebanon, meaning that the embargo imposed by UN Resolution 1701 was not being completely enforced.
Israel plans to inform the joint committee of representatives of UNIFIL, the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Army that unless the arms transfers are stopped, Israel will be forced to take independent action, Peretz said.
Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, Peretz said that Israel could
under no circumstances allow the Strip to be turned into a second South
Lebanon. According to Peretz, the time when Israel used to check who was
sending every missile is over, and the IDF is intent on striking at every
terrorist no matter what organization he belongs to.
The defense minister said that the current ground operations underway in the Gaza Strip were much more extensive than before. But, he said, “No one is hankering for ground action deep inside the entire Gaza Strip.”
The head of research at Military Intelligence, Lieutenant Colonel Yossi
Baidatz, said that Syria was continuing to develop long-range (up to 700kms) missiles and that some of its troops were still widely deployed on the Golan Heights, noting, however, that this was a defensive rather than offensive deployment.
Peretz: Forcible evacuation of illegal outposts in 2 weeks
Peretz also told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Israel Defense Forces would start forcibly evacuating illegal outposts in the West Bank within two weeks.
MK Ran Cohen (Meretz) criticized Peretz for avoiding the outpost evacuations, and said that “each year an evacuation plan is made and not implemented. Don’t tell us you have plans to evacuate them, just begin the evacuation.”
Peretz replied that he is allocating two weeks time for negotiations with Yesha Council leaders, for voluntary evacuations. If they do not reach an agreement, the illegal outposts will be evacuated by force.
Peretz told the cabinet on Sunday that he planned to meet with settlement leaders to discuss the possibility of a voluntary evacuation of illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.
“The matter of evacuating illegal outposts has not lost importance on the public’s agenda, but was given a long rest during the war in Lebanon,” he said, adding that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had raised the issue with him on her last visit to Israel.
Last Thursday, Peretz ordered senior Israel Defense Forces officials to speed up the evacuation of illegal settlement outposts from the West Bank.
The order to immediate evacuate illegal structures was given during a meeting Peretz convened with senior officials from the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the coordinator for government activities in the territories.
Peretz asked the IDF to provide him with operational plans for the evacuation of a number of outposts.
In mid-September, Peretz initially ordered the IDF to renew preparations to raze structures built illegally in settlements in the West Bank.
He said there were plans to demolish 90 buildings built illegally, the majority of which were built by Israelis, and the rest by Palestinians.
The buildings in question are mostly caravans, as well as the foundations for a few permanent structures.