MDA sderot kassam .
(photo credit: Channel 10 [archive])
The IDF promised a swift and harsh response Wednesday to a barrage of some 16 Kassam rockets that pounded the western Negev throughout the day, leaving one person dead and two others seriously wounded in the southern town of Sderot.
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In an early morning attack, Fatima Slutsker, 57, was killed and a security guard at the residence of Defense Minister Amir Peretz was seriously wounded after a Kassam rocket, fired by Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip, landed near the Labor Party chairman's home in Sderot.
The two were taken to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, where Slutsker died of her wounds and the security guard, Maor Peretz, 24, had both of his legs amputated after sustaining severe shrapnel wounds. In the evening, another barrage of Kassam rockets struck Sderot, wounding four, including one 17-year-old seriously. Four other rockets struck a neighborhood in the southern part of Ashkelon.
Stop the Kassams now (editorial)
Diskin: Gov't must prepare for large-scale Gaza op.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz threatened the Palestinians with a massive, widespread ground operation in the Gaza Strip to stop the Kassam rocket attacks and curb the buildup of Hamas forces in the Palestinian territory.
On Tuesday, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin told a Knesset committee that the IDF must prepare for a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip.
One option being considered by the defense establishment is the launching of a widespread operation on the scale of Operation Defensive Shield, launched in the West Bank in 2002 in an effort to curb a wave of suicide attacks inside Israel. If given the green light by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, such an operation would involve calling up several reserve divisions as well as reoccupying a large section of the densely-populated northern Gaza Strip.
"There is no doubt that the terror is building up in the Gaza Strip," Halutz said. "We have not ruled out the possibility of a large-scale operation there."
Peretz convened an emergency meeting of security officials Wednesday afternoon and said, "We will take action against anyone involved in Kassam rocket attacks, from the terror chiefs until the last of the terror operatives. The terror organizations will pay a heavy price."
OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant visited Sderot and told reporters that the army planned to continue its operations against the Kassam terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. "We will get those responsible for the attacks in the ways we know how," Galant said as he toured the scene of the early morning attack with Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad both claimed responsibility for the fatal Sderot attack, calling it retaliation for the deaths of 19 civilians last week in an IDF shelling in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun.
"The occupation hasn't stopped attacking Palestinians before or after Beit Hanun, so we say resistance is a right of Palestinians," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter called on the political echelon to order the IDF to stop the Kassam fire by any means necessary - artillery, aerial, or ground operations - even at the risk of endangering soldiers.
"The political echelon's instructions to the IDF should have been and still must be an absolute halt to Kassam fire from the Gaza Strip at Israel," Dichter said. "There is currently no such instruction. The steps taken up to now have not been successful in stopping the Kassam fire."
Strategic Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the IDF to assassinate leaders of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. "We need to target every leader in addition to every building affiliated with a terror group while avoiding civilian casualties as much as possible," Lieberman said.
Last week, the IDF wrapped up a weeklong operation in Beit Hanun during which soldiers, backed by attack helicopters and tanks, hunted down Kassam rocket squads and killed close to 60 terrorists.
The operation, however, ended without major achievements and rocket attacks continued even as the incursion was under way.
AP contributed to this report.
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