IAF attacks mortar cell near Gaza security fence

Palestinians report 7 wounded; IDF officer lightly hurt in clashes near Nablus; Katyusha worries intel.

October 8, 2007 03:09
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IAF aircraft attacked overnight Sunday a Palestinian terror cell whose members were firing mortar shells over the Gaza security fence into the western Negev. All six mortars landed in open territory, and no wounded or damage were reported. According to Palestinian sources, seven unarmed Palestinians were wounded in the strike. Elsewhere, an IDF officer was lightly wounded by gunfire during an arrest operation in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. He was evacuated to a hospital for treatment. A total of 10 Palestinian terror suspects were arrested throughout the West Bank overnight Sunday. The strike came after a long-range Grad-type Katyusha rocket landed near Netivot in the Negev Sunday morning, about 11 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. It was the first time a rocket landed near the city since Palestinians started firing from Gaza in 2001. "Israel is concerned and worried over the fact that the range of the missiles being fired on the western Negev settlements has increased and views these developments severely," OC Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin said at Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting. The Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the attack. The IDF remained tight-lipped Sunday night about whether it would respond to the incident. While the rocket landed in an open field and caused little damage, it is very unusual to see the longer-range Grad deployed in the South. The last time a Grad was fired from Gaza was in July 2006, when it landed in Barur Hayil. A Katyusha, but not a Grad, landed in Netiv Ha'asara last May. During the Second Lebanon War, Hizbullah fired thousands of Grad-type rockets, among others, at northern cities. Eight mortars were also fired at Kerem Shalom, near southern Gaza, before 8 a.m. on Sunday. One of them hit a house. The owner, Ilan Regev, was not home at the time. Four Kassams were also fired. The Katyusha attack did not cause panic in Netivot. "Our rescue forces are ready to handle an attack," Netivot Municipality spokesman Beni Cohen said. "But for now, it seems useless to deviate from routine while the Katyusha, even if it was the first one to land so close to Netivot, landed in an open field and caused no damage. But we are closely monitoring the situation." Netivot has a warning system, but it wasn't activated to avoid alarming residents and disturb their daily lives, the city's engineer told Channel 2. Netivot Mayor Yehiel Zohar said his request to fortify the town's education institutions had been turned down, since Netivot is located 11 kilometers from the Gaza Strip - one kilometer outside the area that qualifies for fortification. Responding to news of the attack, Likud MK Yuval Steinitz warned residents of Jerusalem, Petah Tikva and Kfar Saba to "awake from their slumber" before the political concessions of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Haim Ramon bring missiles to their homes. "The prime minister must act decisively to eradicate the rockets from the South instead of offering [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas further withdrawals to the center of the country," he said. MK Effi Eitam (NU-NRP) said the government's restraint in the face of Kassam fire on Sderot had led to the Katyushas and that "a government that divides Jerusalem will cause a Grad missile to hit the Knesset." Olmert also received criticism from within his own party. Kadima MK Shai Hermesh called on him to "fulfill the promise he made in January and protect western Negev homes." Hermesh said citizens did not have the 15-second warning for Katyusha rocket fire that they had for Kassam attacks and had no basic protection for their homes. Residents of the Gaza periphery expressed concern. "We didn't receive any panicked phone calls, as most of the media reports dealt with the house that was hit in Kerem Shalom and the Katyusha that landed near Netivot," said Naftali Sivan, a member of Kibbutz Or Haner and the director of the emergency information center for Sha'ar Hanegev towns. "We have been suffering from the Kassams for seven years and I, personally, have learned how to live with that and not get too excited. But the Second Lebanon War demonstrated to us, the residents of the area, what Katyushas are capable of, and I can't say it didn't frighten us." "We are not ready for the Katyushas, but we take the possibility into consideration," Sivan added. There was no simple answer to the Gaza situation, Reut Institute think tank president Gidi Grinstein told The Jerusalem Post Sunday night. It was "a political issue and not a military one," he said, adding that the increased range and payload of Palestinian rockets was inevitable. Grinstein said Israel faces two dilemmas regarding Gaza. "On the one hand," he said, "the military answer is to go in and dismantle Hamas's military capability. I have no doubt that Israel could do that. On the other hand, reoccupying Gaza isn't feasible politically because no one wants to take responsibility again for 1.4 million Palestinians. "The second dilemma is this: The only way to stop the rocket fire from Gaza is to convince Hamas to coerce those who are firing to stop. Israel could do that through military means or political ones. However, the price of that 'hudna' is that Hamas gets to build up its military capabilities without interference." "Right now, there is no solution to Gaza," Grinstein said. "It will remain a chronic problem. In the future, we will have means of protecting ourselves from rocket fire, but right now there is no easy answer. What is clear, however, is that there is definitely no military answer." The Russian-designed Grad rocket has roughly twice the range of the Kassam (16 km.-20 km.) as well as the possibility of twice the payload. It is also more accurate than the cruder Kassam. Islamic Jihad claims to have fired about a dozen Russian-made rockets at Israel since March 2006 and to have many in its possession. Elsewhere Sunday, rocks were thrown at an Israeli vehicle near Hawara, south of Nablus. There were no casualties but the car was damaged. A Molotov cocktail was thrown harmlessly at an Israeli bus southeast of Kalkilya. Overnight Sunday, the IDF captured four fugitives in the West Bank. IDF forces operating in Kabatiya and in Ein Beit Ilma in Nablus overnight were fired at. There were no casualties. Shelly Paz, Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.

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