Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday he hopes Israel's current military offensive in Gaza aimed at quelling rocket attacks will be proportionate to the threat that country faces, and will be concluded soon. He spoke to reporters en route to Brazil.
Mr. Powell did not criticize Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for launching the Gaza offensive, aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket attacks against Israeli towns. But in an airborne news conference on the flight to Brazil, the secretary echoed an appeal for Israeli restraint by a State Department spokesman last week, and said he hopes the operation will not be expanded and will be concluded quickly:
"The immediate problem right now is that Israeli built-up areas are being hit by rockets, and Mr. Sharon finds a need to respond to that," he said. "I hope it does not expand, and I hope that whatever he does is proportionate to the threat that Israel is facing, and I hope that this operation can come to a conclusion quickly."
Mr. Powell declined under questioning to specify what he would consider a proportionate response to the rocket firings, or to predict when the Israeli drive in Gaza might end, saying it will end when Prime Minister Sharon "feels he has dealt with the threat."
He also said he does not believe the operation necessarily contradicts Mr. Sharon's planned "disengagement" from Gaza, and hopes that process will go forward as planned to include four West Bank settlements and revive peace efforts under the international "Road Map."