The IDF vowed a harsh response following Friday's Kassam rocket attack on Kibbutz Karmiya in the western Negev, in which four members of a family were wounded, including a seven-month old baby boy who suffered head injuries.
Shortly after the attack another Kassam rocket was fired, landing in an industrial area south of Ashkelon. No one was wounded but damage was caused to a Mekorot water station.
Islamic Jihad later claimed responsibility for the attacks.
The army's response would be intense and ongoing, a senior IDF officer told The Jerusalem Post, stressing that military action will not be restricted to artillery, but would also include air strikes. Over the weekend, IDF artillery units intensively shelled northern Gaza areas identified as locations from which the rocket attacks were launched.
Senior government officials ruled out sending ground forces into Gaza as a result of the attack. The officials warned that the IDF's sustained efforts would include artillery fire and "targeted interceptions."
The officials said that this was not the first time since disengagement that Israelis were wounded in attacks.
According to one senior official, there was a link between the Islamic Jihad actions in Gaza, Friday's Hizbullah attacks on Mount Dov, and international pressure on both Iran and Syria. The official said that both Damascus and Teheran were signaling the world that they had the ability to destabilize the region if pushed too far.
"As the pressure mounts, we wills see more of this type of activity," he said. "They hope that if they can create a regional flare-up, it will ease the pressure, and that the world will realize it needs them for regional stability."
Security officials noted that since the disengagement from Gaza, over 300 Kassam rockets have been fired at Israel. Some 40 percent of the rockets have fallen in areas under Palestinian control because of the "no go" zone imposed by the army in northern Gaza. Palestinian presence in the zone is prohibited by the IDF in an attempt to distance rocket-launching squads from Israel.
The army had no choice but to intervene and step up its response due to the failure of the Palestinian Authority to act and halt the Kassam attacks against Israel, the officer said.
"Our response will be sharp and hard, and will focus on the Islamic Jihad in particular and any other terror organization that opts to attack us," the officer said.
Residents in Karmiya accused the government of neglecting their needs, and turning them into the country's cannon fodder. They said the Defense Ministry, Sela (the Disengagement Authority) and the Homefront Command had done nothing to enhance their security, and had failed to supply them with the bare minimum such as security rooms.
In recent weeks, Kassam rockets have landed closer to the kibbutz, but Friday's attack was the first time one landed inside it, residents said. There are only seven security rooms to shelter the 500 residents, including 53 families who are former Gaza settlement evacuees, said Hagit Slutzki who is in charge of coordinating kibbutz affairs.
Aviv Leshem, spokesman for the United Kibbutz Movement, said the current situation was "unacceptable" and needed to be addressed immediately by the government.
"The range of the Kassam rockets is expanding further and further into Israel, and we are all very concerned, it is inconceivable that Israeli citizens should be expected to live under constant threat," he said.
Charges that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and the entire security establishment are foot-dragging and failing to provide maximum security for residents in the South, were denied by ministry sources on Saturday.
"Recently the defense minister allocated an additional NIS 30 million to the existing budget of Nis 85 million invested in enhancing the security of residents in the South," the source said.
Mofaz has also demanded that the relevant authorities responsible for providing the security measures beef up their activities, the source added. At present, Israel had no intention of cutting off the electric power in Gaza or shutting down border crossings between Israel and Gaza in response to such attacks, the source said.
"While Friday's attack and the wounding of a baby is regrettable, one should remember that Islamic Jihad is responsible - a terror organization which acts independently and has no sentiment for the Palestinian public," the source added. "Therefore the question that needs to be asked is whether taking such drastic measures will succeed in halting the rocket attacks, or harm the Palestinian public not involved in terror," the source said.
The "Red Dawn" early warning system failed to alert residents to the incoming Kassam rocket attack said Slutzki.
"We heard a loud explosion and raced towards the site. The rocket fell next to a caravilla, it was totally damaged. I got there just as the ambulances, police and IDF arrived," she told the Post.
Several weeks ago while briefing military reporters, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz said that while Israel had the capability to deal with the Kassam rocket threat, it would mean violating moral values and crossing boundaries. At the time Halutz did not rule out the possibility of launching a ground offensive in Gaza to halt the rocket attacks if the situation escalated. He noted that if the army took a more aggressive approach to halt the rocket fire, such actions would cause collateral damage and harming of innocent civilians.
The Kassam attack on Kibbutz Karmiya exploded outside the Amar family's caravilla, located in a new neighborhood where evacuees from former Gaza settlements live. The force of the blast caused extensive damage to the thin walls of the home, causing the ceiling to collapse. Bat-El Amar was lightly wounded and her seven-month-old son Osher suffered a head wound and was initially listed in serious condition. The two were taken to the Soroka Hospital in Beersheba and, after undergoing a CT scan in hospital, Osher's condition was listed as moderate.
Husband Yuval, and Itzik, a close relative, were taken to the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon where they were treated for light to moderate wounds.
Yossi Cohen, a Magen David Adom paramedic, knew before he reached the kibbutz that his daughter's house had been hit. "It is a difficult situation - you are driving to the site and you know those closest to your heart were in the house that was hit, and you don't know the extent of their injuries," he told reporters.
After the wounded had been treated and evacuated to hospital, the regional council sent social workers and other officials to assist residents and calm their fears, said Slutzki. Many of the evacuees left the kibbutz, she said, adding "you cannot blame them, their children are still traumatized from the past," she said.
Residents of the kibbutz plan to protest the lack of security arrangements outside the Defense Ministry on Sunday.
Slutzki, who has been directly involved in recent months with the Defense Ministry, Sela and Home Front Command in an effort to obtain security rooms for the entire kibbutz, said she was fed up.
"We are helpless, I have received no response to my requests to beef up and enhance security, the children are scared, and no one seems to care," she said. The government must deal with the situation, soon, she said. "A solution must be found for our kibbutz, evacuees or veteran kibbutz members, we are all one family."
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.
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