IDf operation 298.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Despite heavy artillery barrages and almost daily IAF and navy missile strikes this week, the Gaza front heated up on Thursday after a Kassam rocket struck a factory in Kibbutz Zikim, sparking a fire and sending two workers into shock.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, and firefighters succeeded in extinguishing the blaze before it spread. The IDF responded with artillery barrages, and close to 300 shells were fired at launch sites in the northern Gaza Strip. Another Kassam rocket landed Thursday night in Sderot, but no injuries or damage were reported.
While the IDF called for the public's patience, claiming that its new tactic of striking launch sites even within populated areas would eventually curb the Kassam threat, the army confirmed Thursday that terror groups had succeeded in launching over 40 rockets this past week - almost 50 percent more than the week before, when the new tactic had yet to be put into practice.
But despite the clear escalation in the military response, which included the bombing of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's helicopter pad in Gaza on Tuesday, the new operation - dubbed "Southern Arrow" - did not seem to be having the expected effect on the launch cells which, despite threats of targeted killings, succeeded daily in wreaking havoc on the western Negev.
Senior IDF officers were confident that the results of the operation would be seen in the coming days and claimed that the Palestinian public was already trying to rein in the terror groups to stop the Kassam fire.
"This operation requires patience," one Southern Command source said. "It will take time, but in the end we will stop the Kassam fire."
The army for now plans to use other means before sending infantry troops into the Gaza Strip, which was completely evacuated last summer under the disengagement plan. "We have many more ways to escalate our response before sending troops into Gaza refugee camps," the officer said.
Military Intelligence officers briefed Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on the Gaza operation on Thursday, claiming that since the beginning of the year the motivation by terror groups to perpetrate attacks including Kassam and suicide bombings had drastically increased in comparison to the same period in 2005. The officers said that money recently transferred by Iran and Syria to the terror groups - particularly Islamic Jihad - was the catalyst for this sharp rise.
Mofaz ordered the IDF to step up its response to the Kassam fire and against terror infrastructures in the West Bank. Referring to the 2002 Park Hotel Pessah suicide bombing in Netanya, which pushed the government to launch Operation Defensive Shield in an effort to lower the number of suicide attacks, Mofaz said the defense establishment would do everything in its power to curb the current rise in terror.
"We need to do all we can to ensure that Israeli citizens will be able to celebrate Pessah without fear," Mofaz said during a security assessment at his Tel Aviv office. The defense minister also ordered the IDF and Israel Police to step up their operations to capture Palestinians illegally residing in Israel, as well as tighten the closure that has been imposed on the West Bank since the Purim holiday last month. The closure is expected to remain in effect until after Pessah.
Meanwhile Thursday, IDF troops arrested a Palestinian woman in Nablus who allegedly planned to carry out a suicide bombing within Israel. On Wednesday two other Palestinians, who allegedly planned to become suicide bombers, were also arrested in Nablus.
Channel 2 News reported Thursday night that two Egyptian helicopters had recently entered Israeli airspace and were almost shot down by IAF fighter jets. According to the report, the helicopters crossed the border not far from the Dimona nuclear reactor but were intercepted by IAF jets and returned to Egypt. However, the IDF vigorously denied the report.