IDF prepares for Gaza escalation as ceasefire attempted

Gov't approves expansion of military responses; schools across south closed for second day; rocket fire resumes following brief period of calm.

October 31, 2011 00:49
3 minute read.
IDF chief of General Staff Benny Gantz [file]

Benny Gantz 311. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)

The IDF approved a series of operations aimed at widening the scope of its responses to ongoing Islamic Jihad rocket attacks from Gaza on Sunday, as Egypt tried to mediate a second cease-fire after the first attempt at a truce lasted only several hours.

The planning for an intensified Israeli response, which was overseen by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, took place in the command and control room of the IDF’s Southern Command in Beersheba, and in Tel Aviv.

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As senior defense chiefs spent Sunday preparing for a further escalation, they treated reports of a new cease-fire with skepticism, after Gazans shattered a brief calm by attempting to fire a rocket into Israel around 3 p.m.

The terrorist cell that prepared the rocket for launch was struck successfully by an air force aircraft, thwarting the attack. The cell reportedly belonged to the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. One terrorist was killed and another was seriously wounded.

Following the preemptive strike, two projectiles were fired from Gaza at the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, south of Ashkelon, on Sunday evening, triggering air raid sirens. The rockets struck in open areas and failed to cause injuries or damage. A third rocket targeted the same area on Sunday night.

“We’re not waiting for any decision by Islamic Jihad,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said, referring to reports of a cease-fire.

He said Gantz had ordered the army to prepare a number of responses that had been approved by the government to intensify Israeli efforts to stem the rocket fire.

“There are pinpoint plans to strike terrorist infrastructure – and more than that,” Mordechai said. “Until now, the IDF has harmed the Islamic Jihad’s rocket manufacturing and firing infrastructure, including a senior member who was responsible for these things,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Islamic Jihad and Hamas leaders “not to test our abilities,” following a meeting with security and intelligence chiefs.

Islamic Jihad continued to threaten strikes deeper into Israel following the air force’s attack on the rocket launching crew in Gaza.

“Our response will be a clear message,” said Daud Shihab, an Islamic Jihad spokesman. “We will widen the circle of fire and include new settlements and cities deep in Israel.”

The Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad is one of the most heavily armed organizations in Gaza, and is believed to have many rockets.

Despite reports of a ceasefire, municipal officials in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beersheba and Gan Yavne decided to take no chances and canceled classes at all schools in their districts.

With the exception of Ashkelon, Monday will be the second day in a row in which schoolchildren in the South will remain at home because of the security situation.

The decision was taken against the advice of the Home Front Command, which advised southern communities that schools could be reopened. It signaled the lack of faith local leaders placed in claims that the situation was heading toward calm.

The day began with yet another wave of Grad attacks on major southern cities.

Eleven rockets in total were fired. The Iron Dome shield intercepted two rockets heading for Ashdod. A third hit in the Gan Yavne Regional Council. Ashkelon was also targeted.

Earlier, long before dawn, rockets were fired in Beersheba’s general direction, falling short of the city. Air raid sirens on the outskirts of the city went off, and residents awoke to hear sirens and explosions. No injuries were reported.

The IDF struck six targets in Gaza on Saturday and Sunday, including three rocket launching positions and a tunnel used by terrorists.

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