A Katyusha rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel for the first time on Tuesday, raising fears that Palestinian terror groups have obtained additional weaponry that the IDF had yet to face in its war against Gaza-based terror.
The Katyusha attack, the army said, was a "clear escalation" on the Gaza front and demanded a quick and harsh response.
Unlike the homemade, short-range Kassam rockets frequently launched at Israel, Katyushas have a range of close to 20 kilometers and can carry over 20 kilograms of explosives.
Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for firing the Katyusha, which landed in an open field south of Ashkelon.
Since the disengagement from the Gaza Strip this past summer, the defense establishment has raised concerns that Palestinians would succeed in smuggling Katyusha rockets into Gaza from Egypt. The Rafah border crossing, officials have said, was left "wide open" by European observers and the Palestinians allowing for the entry of senior Iranian and Syrian terror suspects.
The Katyusha fired Tuesday, military officials estimated, was smuggled into Gaza through the Egyptian border. Egyptian soldiers have taken up positions along the border since Israel pulled out of the Philadelphi corridor in August, but to Israel's dismay they have not yet clamped down on weapons smuggling into Gaza.
"With Global Jihad camps based around the corner in Egypt," one senior officer said, "it was only a matter of time before the Palestinians got their hands on Katyusha rockets and other new weaponry."
The rocket landed just north of the northern Gaza Strip security fence. Due to a faulty launch, the army said, it only traveled 5.5 km. A senior source in the Southern Command said the army was not overly surprised by the Katyusha rocket fire and believed that the Palestinians did not have large Katyusha stockpiles.
The Katyusha fired on Tuesday, the army said, had a 122 mm. diameter and was larger than the rockets fired by Hizbullah at communities along the northern border in December. The army first believed the projectile fired Tuesday morning was a Kassam rocket, but shortly after inspecting the rocket remains police sappers determined that it was a Katyusha.
Palestinian terror groups have tried smuggling Katyusha rockets into the Gaza Strip for years. In 2002, several dozen rockets were seized aboard the Karine A weapons ship when it was intercepted by IDF troops as it made its way to Gaza.