Barak vows to hunt down terrorists

Defense minister praises security ops in West Bank which killed senior Islamic Jihad commander.

barak 224.88 (photo credit:)
barak 224.88
(photo credit: )
While Hamas was not directly behind the firing of close to 30 Kassam rockets into Israel on Thursday, senior defense officials said that Israel held the terror group responsible and would not refrain from responding militarily. The quiet in the western Negev came to an abrupt end on Thursday as 28 rockets slammed into Sderot and other Gaza-belt communities. The rockets were fired by Islamic Jihad in response to an IDF operation Wednesday night in Bethlehem during which the group's military commander in the city was killed. Several rockets landed in Sderot and one scored a direct hit on the playground of a high school in the city. Close to 10 mortar shells were also fired into Israel. Five Islamic Jihad operatives were killed on Wednesday, including Mahmoud Shehada, the commander of the group in Bethlehem who was wanted by Israel for the past eight years for his involvement in a number of deadly terror attacks since the eruption of the second intifada. Defense officials dismissed claims that Israel had agreed to a cease-fire and pointed to remarks made Wednesday by Defense Minister Ehud Barak that "Israel will respond when and where it wants to." "Nothing happens in the Gaza Strip without Hamas knowing about it," a senior defense official said. "Even though the rockets are fired by Islamic Jihad, Hamas is responsible." On Thursday, Barak said that Israel would continue to pursue terrorists in Gaza and in the West Bank. "Yesterday in Bethlehem we demonstrated once again that the State of Israel will continue to pursue and strike all murderers with Jewish blood on their hands," he said. Defense officials also dismissed Hamas attempts to link a cease-fire in Gaza with a similar one in the West Bank. Egyptian officials confirmed that Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, planned to visit Israel next week for talks with Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the possibility of a cease-fire. "Under no circumstances will we stop operating in the West Bank," a senior defense official said. "If we do not operate there terrorism will flourish and no one will stop the attacks on our cities." Meanwhile Thursday, alongside the continuous flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, the IDF facilitated the transfer of five ambulances and two additional vehicles intended to transport disabled Palestinians into the Gaza Strip. Despite the rocket attacks, the IDF also aided 17 Palestinians in traveling from Gaza to Egypt for medical treatment. Next week, 21 Palestinians are scheduled to head to Jordan for medical care.