IAF hits Gazan terror targets in response to rockets

Air force strikes 3 rocket launching sites in northern, central Gaza; Grad rocket lands near Ashdod, as hostilities enter fourth day.

Smoke rises in Gaza after IAF air strike 370 (R) (photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
Smoke rises in Gaza after IAF air strike 370 (R)
(photo credit: Amir Cohen/Reuters)
The Israeli Air Force hit terror targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Monday and a Grad rocket fired from the coastal territory landed in an open area near Ashdod as hostilities in the region entered a fourth day.
The violence came as Hamas said a cease-fire agreement was contingent on Israel's actions in Gaza and Israel's top brass was set to convene to discuss possible responses to the ongoing rocket fire. The latest round of violence in the Gaza border region began Saturday, when Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile at an IDF jeep, injuring four soldiers. Over a hundred rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel since, causing damage to property and minor injuries. IAF responses to the rocket attacks have killed six Palestinians
The Israeli Air Force hit back at two rocket launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip and a weapons storage site in central Gaza overnight on Monday, the IDF Spokesperson Office said.
IAF personnel recorded a direct hit on their targets, the IDF spokesman's Office said. No injuries were reported.
Several hours later a Grad rocket was fired from Gaza, landing in an open area near Ashdod. No injuries or damage were reported in the attack.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held security consultations on Monday night to weigh a military response to the continuous barrage of rockets, as the worried international community urged restraint.
“We’ll take whatever action is necessary to put a stop to this. This is not merely our right, it’s also our duty,” Netanyahu told a large meeting of foreign ambassadors in Ashkelon during the afternoon.
Some 20 rockets fired from Gaza slammed into southern Israel throughout the day Monday.
One rocket scored a direct strike on a Netivot factory, causing damage but no injuries, as workers found cover just in time.
Video footage of the strike showed factory workers scurrying for safety during an air raid siren, with some jumping off forklifts, before an explosion tore through a part of the factory.
Magen David Adom treated 37 people for shock.
Iron Dome successfully intercepts several rockets
The Iron Dome rocket defense system went into action repeatedly on Monday, intercepting two rockets headed for Ofakim, and before that, shooting down two long-range rockets hurtling toward Ashkelon.
A rocket exploded in Sderot in the evening, sending wary residents rushing for safety.
It was the third day of a continuous rocket barrage in which some 120 projectiles, including missiles and mortars were fired at Israel.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a special evaluation meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv together with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz and OC Southern Command Maj.- Gen. Tal Russo.
Barak also met with Netanyahu and Gantz in Jerusalem. It is believed that they are developing a new policy for responding to the Gazan rockets.
The security cabinet is expected to meet on Tuesday, although the Prime Minister’s Office would not confirm the information.
Israel mulling ground response, Likud minister says
Israel's response has so far been restrained. Overnight Sunday, the air force struck a weapons storage facility in the northern end of the Strip, and a terror target in southern Gaza. There were no injuries in the air strikes.
Israel is close to initiating a major ground operation in the Gaza Strip in order to put an end to the Palestinian rocket fire, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar told Israel Radio.
“We are preparing for a major operation,” he said, adding that Israel is taking steps diplomatically to prepare for such a contingency.
The United Nations, the European Union and France on Monday condemned the rocket fire, but urged both parties not to take any steps that would escalate the situation.
“Both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times,” the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- Moon said.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added that she supported Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire.
Gaza leadership says cease-fire contingent on Israeli actions
Hamas in Gaza called a meeting of the various factions to examine how to avoid further Palestinian casualties, Bethlehem-based Ma’an news agency reported, citing a Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) leader. Six Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes since the weekend, four of whom were civilians.
A Hamas statement from the meeting said that its activities and the possibility of a cease-fire “depend on the continuation of the Israeli aggression.”
Soon after the meeting, however, Gazans fired three additional rockets at Sderot. The rockets exploded in open areas, causing no damages or injuries.
Netanyahu discusses rocket attacks with foreign ambassadors
In the middle of the day, Netanyahu invited all the foreign ambassadors in Israel to talk with him in Ashkelon about the Gazan rockets.
They met in a large unprotected auditorium along the seashore that was within rocket range, so he could make the case that the violent barrage against Israel’s citizens was intolerable.
To his left as he spoke, laid out on a table was a small arsenal of rockets and missiles that had been launched into Israel, including a Kassam, a Grad and a Katushya of Iranian or Chinese origin.
From the podium, Netanyahu looked out at the ambassadors who sat on rows of folded chairs.
To underscore their vulnerability, Netanyahu told them, “If an alarm is sounded, all of us have exactly 30 seconds to find shelter.”
He explained that they were not the only ones in danger. “This is the situation in which one million Israelis find themselves.That’s families, old people, children, babies,” he said.
They are targeted on a daily basis by those who took over the area that Israel vacated in 2005 when it withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu continued, saying that those who launch the rockets hide behind civilians in Gaza so they can target Israeli civilians.
“I don’t know of any of the citizens of your cities, who could find that acceptable and something that could proceed on a normal basis,” he said.
“The whole world understands that this is not acceptable,” Netanyahu said.
He added that neither he nor the people of Israel would continue to tolerate it.
“Any fair-minded person in any fair-minded government in the world would understand that it’s our right to defend our people, and this is what we shall do,” Netanyahu said.
To help the ambassadors understand the situation, the Prime Minister’s Office also showed them video clips of Palestinians launching rockets and of Israeli citizens from the South diving for cover.
On the stage with Netanyahu was Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin and Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter.
Ashkelon, Sderot and Netivot residents were also present to tell the ambassadors what it felt like to live under constant threat of attack.French envoy concerned over weapon-smuggling into Gaza
French Ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot told The Jerusalem Post that the visit did underscore the vulnerability of southern residents to rocket attacks, as did the testimony of the residents.
“It was a way for all of us to get a hint of what these people [southern residents] experience,” he said.
Bigot noted that during his six years in Israel, he has made many solidarity visits to the South, as well as to the North during the Second Lebanon War.
“I stayed for three hours in Haifa. There were three alerts and I had to run to the bomb shelter three times,” Bigot said.
The prime minister, he said, described what had happened, but not what would happen.
Bigot said he was hopeful that a relative calm could be restored through Egyptian efforts. But, he said, he remained concerned by the number of weapons that had been smuggled into Gaza.
Dichter told Channel 2 that evening that Israel had to find a way to deal with the amount of missiles that had been stockpiled in Gaza.
Air strikes can’t eliminate the missiles; only ground forces can get rid of them, he said.
Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.