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(photo credit: AP)
In the latest sign that Palestinian terror groups had obtained new and improved weaponry, Islamic Jihad terrorists on Tuesday fired a Katyusha rocket from the northern Gaza Strip that struck a chicken coop in Moshav Netiv Ha'asara killing 30 chickens.
The Grad-type Katyusha rocket, the army said, had a range of up to 20 kilometers although on Tuesday the rocket landed only three-and-a-half kilometers from its launch site. The rocket's warhead, officials said, carried six kilograms of explosives and was far more lethal than the homemade Kassam rocket, fired almost daily by Palestinians at the western Negev.
An Islamic Jihad spokesman said Tuesday's launch was meant to send a message that the group would not be intimidated by IDF operations, such as an IAF missile strike on Monday that wounded three members of the terror group. "This is a message for the Zionist war minister [Defense Minister Amir Peretz] and to his army that resistance is the only strategic option for us," said Abu Hamza, the Islamic Jihad spokesman. "The ongoing war against our fighters and heroes will not stop our jihad and fight."
Islamic Jihad, security officials estimated, had between 10 to 20 additional Katyusha rockets at its disposal. A source in the Southern Command said the missile was outdated, which was why it only traveled a mere 3.5 km from its launch site. The source said that the missiles were of Russian make, and were transferred into Gaza from Iran, most probably via Sinai.
Tuesday's launching was the third time Palestinians fired a Katyusha rocket at Israel. The first time was on Election Day in March and was viewed at the time as a serious escalation on the Gaza front. On Tuesday however the army played down the severity of the attack claiming that the Katyusha fire did not symbolize an escalation in the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel.
"This is not a new threat," a security official said. "In general, Kassam rocket fire has decreased in recent weeks and we do not plan to take any special action in response to the Katyusha fire."
Islamic Jihad claimed to have "many more" Katyusha rockets as well as to have recently developed a new rocket capable of reaching targets within a 24-km range.
"Our engineers have developed new homemade rockets," said Abu Ahmed, an Islamic Jihad field commander. "It's going to carry more explosives than a Katyusha, with a range of 24 km."
Meanwhile Tuesday, Defense Minister Amir Peretz visited the Northern Gaza Brigade headquarters outside of kibbutz Nahal Oz in his first visit to a military base since taking office less than two weeks ago. During a security assessment he held at the base together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, Peretz said that the defense establishment was "studying" the Katyusha rocket fire and raising different ways to deal with the threat.
The army, he added, did not intend to change its current anti-Kassam tactics which included IAF missile strikes and daily artillery barrages on Kassam launch sites.
"The residents of the Gaza Strip need to understand that Israel has no interest in escalating the situation," Peretz said. "The fact that the Palestinian Authority allows radical elements to do as they wish is what is turning the civilian population in Gaza into hostages."
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