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(photo credit: AP)
The IDF vowed a harsh response on Wednesday to the firing of a Katyusha rocket at Israel a day earlier from the Gaza Strip.
"We will not let this pass quietly," a senior security official warned. "Our response will be harsh and we will make it clear that Katyusha fire will not be tolerated."
While the defense establishment had yet to formulate an official response to Tuesday's Katyusha fire from Gaza, Israel did step up its attacks following the launching of three Kassam rockets on Wednesday and pounded launch sites in the northern Gaza Strip with artillery barrages and, for the first time, with missiles from Navy warships stationed off the Gaza coast.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz have held a series of consultations on the Katyusha fire over the past two days. Mofaz, officials said, will hold a security assessment on Thursday, following which he is expected to issue a directive to the IDF regarding Israel's response to the escalation on the Gaza front.
"We do not see this as a strategic threat on the State of Israel," the official said. "But we do plan to take action to dismantle the Islamic Jihad terror infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank to prevent Katyusha fire in the future."
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Katyusha rocket fire and on Wednesday announced that it was in possession of "many more" Russian-made Katyushas. Unlike the homemade, short-range Kassam rockets frequently launched at Israel, Islamic Jihad said the Grad version of the Katyusha is 2.8 meters long, weighed 66 kilograms and had a caliber of 122 mm. It carries a 17-kilogram warhead, the group said, and has a range of 18 to 30 kilometers.
Abu Abdullah, a spokesman for the terror group, said the rockets were made in Russia and smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. Drawing inspiration from Hizbullah, which attacked northern Israel with Katyusha rockets to force Israel to evacuate southern Lebanon, Islamic Jihad planned to use the rockets to try to force Israel to evacuate land adjacent to Gaza, he said.
"These rockets, God willing, will be the reason for liberating the villages adjacent to the Gaza Strip," he said. An Israeli retaliatory attack on Islamic Jihad would be met with a "quick response," he said, adding that the terror group was studying the rockets in their possession to try to independently develop their own version.
Security officials downplayed Islamic Jihad's announcement and said the terror group was in possession of only "a small amount" of Katyushas, and not hundreds. The Katyusha fire did, however, raise fears that Gaza-based terror groups might have obtained additional weaponry, including anti-aircraft missiles, which the IDF had yet to face in its war against Palestinian terror.
Meanwhile Wednesday, IDF troops thwarted a suicide bombing after they captured an 18-year-old Palestinian wearing an explosive belt at the Beka'ot checkpoint in the Jordan Valley. The belt held approximately 10 kg. of explosives, said Jordan Valley Battalion Commander Col. Moti Elmoz.
Nahal Haredi troops manning the checkpoint spotted the youth, who looked suspicious. They ordered him to stand on the side and closed down the checkpoint.
Sappers at the scene inspected the youth and discovered the explosives belt strapped to his body. The bomber said he was supposed to pass through the checkpoint and be picked up by operatives who would drive him to the site of the planned attack.
The attempted suicide bombing came as the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on Wednesday recorded over 70 terror threats, including 13 concrete warnings.