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(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz instructed the army on Sunday night to intensify its response to the Kassam rocket attacks and resume the policy of targeted killings against terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
Israel occasionally returned fire toward the area in the Gaza Strip from where the rockets were launched. Also, the IAF resumed its tactic of sounding sonic booms over Gaza, Army Radio reported.
These measures came following an instruction from Mofaz to take harsher steps to quell the rocket attacks following a security assessment of the situation.
Hours after Israel announced the easing of restrictions on Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza who are not involved in terror, three Kassam rockets were fired into the western Negev on Sunday night.
The first two Kassam rockets were fired early Sunday evening, and the third landed around 10:30 p.m.
The first two rockets exploded inside Moshav Shuva near Netivot. One person was wounded, several residents were treated for shock, and windows of houses were shattered.
After midnight Saturday the air force conducted three air strikes in northern Gaza, targeting open areas from which Kassam rockets were fired at Israeli communities in the western Negev over the weekend. On Saturday alone, three rockets were fired at Israel, two landing near Kibbutz Karmiya south of Ashkelon and one in the hothouses located in Moshav Netiv Ha'asara.
Describing the situation as far from satisfactory, a senior IDF officer declared that a massive and aggressive military response could lead Israel to a situation that it is not interested in reaching. While Kassam rockets and mortar shell attacks are unacceptable, an exaggerated response by Israel could return us to the same situation we were confronted with two or three months ago, he said.
"Every rocket attack is a potential danger. However, if the Palestinian Authority fails to take responsibility and the attacks intensify, then we will take the necessary steps," the officer said. Refraining from divulging Israel's definition of what it would consider to be "crossing the red lines," the officer did not rule out the possibility of a ground offensive if the situation worsens.
According to the officer, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Resistance Committee and the Fatah Aksa Martyrs Brigades operating in Gaza are responsible for the rocket attacks. It is those groups that need to be dealt with specifically, he said.
He noted that, ever since the IDF pullout from the Gaza Strip, 70% of the Kassam rocket attacks fired by Palestinians have fallen in Palestinian-controlled areas in Gaza. While the terror organizations in Gaza are doing their utmost to improve the rockets' distance capability, they currently have an eight-to-ten-kilometer range, he said.
The officer admitted that, while the targeting of identified rocket launching sites in northern Gaza by IDF artillery units or air force strikes has proven effective, they have failed to harm those responsible for firing the rockets or those who recruited them.
On Sunday morning, despite the general closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the Hadera suicide bombing on October 26, Israel embarked on a series of steps to ease up restrictions imposed on the Palestinian people.
"Economic stability for the Palestinians is important. We do not view the general Palestinian population as the focus of our operations," said the officer. When Israel takes steps to ease up the situation, permitting thousands of laborers from Gaza to enter Israel for work, it is only when they return to their homes they will realize that terror does not pay, he said.
"When they return home and are forced to make their way on roads that have been bombed and shelled by IDF artillery and air force strikes because they were used to launch rocket and mortar attacks, it conveys a message to them that terror does not pay and that they should take steps to prevent terrorists from operating in those areas," the officer said.
Four thousand additional Palestinian laborers from the West Bank were permitted to enter Israel, bringing the total number to 16,000. Five hundred West Bank merchants were also granted entry, bringing the total number of merchants permitted to enter Israel to 12,500. Israel also allowed 500 Palestinian worshipers from the West Bank to participate in religious services in Jerusalem on Sunday, and will permit the same number of worshipers to attend prayer services on December 8.
Meanwhile, 2,000 Palestinian laborers in the Gaza Strip were permitted to enter Israel, bringing the total number to 7,000. One thousand merchants from Gaza were also permitted to enter Israel, bringing the total number of merchants from Gaza to 2,000.
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