IDF braces for rocket fire close to TA

Country prepares for possible further expansion of missile fire from the Gaza Strip, to as far as Rishon Lezion and Gedera.

By
March 25, 2011 05:39
A Palestinian terrorist fires a rocket into Israel

Palestinian terrorist 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The IDF is bracing for a possible further expansion of missile fire from the Gaza Strip, to as far as Rishon Lezion and Gedera, after two Grad-model Katyusha rockets flew some 30 kilometers and slammed into Ashdod on Thursday for the first time since Operation Cast Lead two years ago.

The blast from the missiles was heard in Rishon Lezion, Rehovot and Yavne, leading some residents to believe initially that a rocket had fallen in the vicinity of these central locales. Palestinian terror groups in Gaza are believed to have Iranian-made rockets, like the Fajr-5, that are capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

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Officers from the Home Front Command were in contact with the Rishon Lezion and Gedera municipalities on Thursday, and nearby kibbutzim were also told to be on high alert for missile attacks.

Schools in Ashdod, Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat were ordered closed on Friday.

In total, 11 rockets were fired into Israel on Thursday, and six mortar shells landed in the area of the Eshkol Regional Council on Thursday night. There were no reports of injuries.

Meanwhile, police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) are continuing their joint investigation into Wednesday’s Jerusalem terrorist bombing – in which a British woman, Mary Jane Gardner, 59, was murdered and over 40 people wounded – but are keeping details of the investigation far from the public eye.

The head of the Police Operations Branch, Cmdr. Nissim Mor, said authorities were anticipating additional missile fire from Gaza.

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“Unfortunately, in the South, they are well experienced in handling these attacks. We are prepared for more rocket impacts further to the north, too, and we’ve sent more patrol cars to these areas,” Mor said.

The IDF responded to the increased rocket fire late Thursday with a missile strike against a Hamas base in the northern Gaza Strip, which Palestinian media claimed once served as headquarters for the Palestinian Authority Intelligence Service but now serves as a command post for Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam. Some reports said the target was an ammunition store.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel would continue operating against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

“We will not tolerate terror attacks against our citizens,” Barak said during a joint press conference with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. “We will continue operating and will not allow terror to lift its head once again in this region.”

Strategic Affairs Ministry Director- General Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser said “a lot of possibilities were on the table.”

Gates said Israel had the right to defend itself in the face of rocket attacks against its cities, but warned that “we don’t want to do anything that allows extremists or others to divert the narrative of reform that’s going on in virtually all the countries of the region.”

Russian Prime Minister Vladmir Putin condemned the recent attacks on Israeli citizens during a face-to-face conversation he had with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was visiting Moscow.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Putin said he identified with the pain Israelis were feeling. As the two leaders spoke, Netanyahu received a phone call from US President Barack Obama, who also condemned the attacks. “This creates a joint condemnation and a wide international identification in the war against terror, and this strengthens us in our joint battle,” Netanyahu said in a message sent out to the media.

Following the Grad attacks, Israeli officials said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had told the Russian leadership that if PA President Mahmoud Abbas unified with Hamas, then “he’s burying the peace process.”

According to the officials, the idea was raised, during the Moscow meetings, of possible interim steps to be taken by Israel with the Palestinian leadership that would be short of a final agreement.

But while foreign leaders are urging progress, frequently telling Netanyahu that Abbas is weak and that Hamas is breathing down his neck, the Israeli position is that if this is the case, Abbas may be too weak to sign and implement an agreement.

Given that situation, Israel is raising the idea of “measured and mutual steps.” But if Hamas and Fatah joined forces, officials said, even this course would be unlikely.

Kuperwasser said Thursday that it appeared Hamas was incapable of reining in Islamic Jihad and preventing the Gaza rocket fire against Israel. “It is a reflection of the fact that no one speaks for the Palestinians and no one controls the situation [in Gaza],” he said. “It does not seem [like] there are sources inside the Gaza Strip who can bring about an end to the situation.”

The rockets from Gaza were not a result of Israel’s political or diplomatic situation, but were instead a reflection of the situation in Gaza, he said.

“Gaza is a problematic area with no clear government. We used to think that Hamas was in control. What we see in the last few days is that they do not want to control or cannot control [the violence],” Kuperwasser said.

Israel, he said, was committed to preventing the missile fire and taking what steps it could to sway the Palestinians to stop launching rockets. The IDF held consultations on Thursday night about possible deployment of the counter-rocket defense system, Iron Dome, as early as next week.

Kuperwasser said that discussions were ongoing about what the proper method of response should be.

“I cannot go into the details,” he said, but “a lot of possibilities are on the table. Clearly we do not have an interest in escalation.

We have to restore stability, and the question is what is the best way to do that, and if it is possible [to do it] without another Cast Lead.”

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