Islamic Jihad hits Gedera, schools remain closed

IDF readies for possible use of Iranian-made Fajr rockets; 50 projectiles land in Beersheba, Ashdod; top brass skeptical Egyptian mediation efforts will succeed.

By
March 13, 2012 00:39
3 minute read.
Iron Dome fires interceptor rocket south of Ashdod

Iron Dome 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Islamic Jihad escalated its rocket fire into Israel on Monday, striking as far north as Gedera as Egyptian diplomats worked to broker a cease-fire between the Palestinian terrorist group and Israel.

High-ranking IDF officers were skeptical that the mediation efforts would succeed and said that plans were in place to escalate Israel’s ongoing military operations, including the possible launching of a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip if the rocket fire continued.

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“A lot depends on Hamas and Islamic Jihad but we are prepared for all scenarios,” a top officer in the Southern Command said Monday night.

On Monday, nearly 50 rockets pounded Israel including several that landed in Beersheba and Ashdod despite Iron Dome rocket-defense batteries deployed nearby. The system succeeded in intercepting 11 rockets out of 18 throughout the day.

In total, over 200 rockets have been fired into Israel since hostilities began on Friday, including 50 with ranges of over 20 kilometers. Some of the rockets were manufactured domestically in the Gaza Strip.

A senior IDF intelligence officer said that Islamic Jihad was currently focused on “saving face” and creating a “victory image” with which it will be able to claim that it defeated the IDF.

Rocket ranges from Gaza

In reality, the officer said, Islamic Jihad has suffered heavy losses throughout the four days of fighting, including over 20 dead operatives and extensive damage to its terrorist infrastructure.

The officer said that Iran was actively encouraging Islamic Jihad to continue firing rockets into Israel. According to the officer, Iran was concerned that if Islamic Jihad stopped now, it would appear weak and bruised for failing to exact a heavy price from Israel during the current round. As a result, the terrorist group was under orders to continue attacking.

“The IDF will continue to protect Israeli citizens and will strike all those who rise to attack us,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday. “Those who attack our civilians will be punished.”

The current round of violence began on Friday afternoon after Israel assassinated the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the Gaza Strip who the IDF said was plotting an attack against Israel along the Egyptian border.

The officer said that it was still unclear if the attack the PRC leader had been plotting was foiled or if it was still underway.

According to the officer, Hamas was mostly “sitting on the sidelines” and was not actively participating in the rocket attacks against Israel. On the other hand, the officer said, Hamas is also not working to prevent the rocket fire.

“It is possible for this round to end soon if Hamas and the Egyptians step up their involvement in influencing Islamic Jihad,” the officer said.

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The IDF said that 25 Palestinians, including three civilians, were killed in the fighting since Friday. One of the dead was a 15-year-old youth. Gaza medical officials said that another 74 have been wounded.

The senior officer from the Southern Command said that the IDF was prepared for the possibility that Islamic Jihad would try to launch one of the Iranian Fajr artillery rockets that it recently received and which are capable of striking inside Tel Aviv.

“This is always a possibility but they understand what the implications would be, although this does not mean that it will not happen,” the officer said.

For the third day in a row, the IDF Home Front Command and the heads of a number of local authorities in the South decided Monday night to cancel school in all communities located between seven and 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.

The closure applies to Ashkelon, Ashdod, Beersheba, Netivot, Sderot, Kiryat Malachi, Gedera, Rahat, Yavne, Lakiya and the Gan Yavne Regional Council.

Classes will still be held in the Brenner regional council, the town of Yesodot, Bet Guvrin, Beit Nir, Gal-on, and Shomreyah.

The cancellation does not apply to schools in the western Negev that are within 7 kilometers of the Gaza Strip.

Ben Hartman contributed to this report.

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