Israel has no plans to reoccupy Gaza: ministers

– 28/06/2006 08h19 – AFP

JERUSALEM, June 28, 2006 (AFP) – Israel has no plans to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, cabinet ministers said Wednesday after troops and tanks rolled into the territory in an offensive aimed at freeing a captured teenage soldier.

"The Israeli offensive in Gaza is intended to bring Gilad Shalit home," Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told public radio referring to the 19-year-old conscript who is believed to be held by militants in southern Gaza.

"We do not intend to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, or to make the Palestinian population suffer," added Ben-Eliezer, who belongs to the centre-left Labour party and sits in Israel’s security cabinet.

Speaking on CNN, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres confirmed that Israel had no plans to return to the Gaza Strip but was "left without a choice" in the face of inaction by the Palestinian leadership to rescue the soldier.

"We don’t intend to go back to Gaza," he said, stressing Israel was doing "whatever we can" to avoid suffering to innocent Palestinians.

"They must understand that they’re not being punished by Israel, the moment the soldier is released everything will stop," he said.

Dubbed "Summer Rain" by the army, the limited operation was the first major ground offensive against Gaza since Israel pulled settlers and troops from the impoverished coastal strip last year following a 38-year occupation.