Shalom: Situation reminiscent of run-up to Cast Lead

Vilna'i says "only a matter of time until we clash with Hamas again"; IDF strikes Grad launcher; '5 Gazan terrorists killed overnight.'

IAF airstrike Gaza_311 reuters (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
IAF airstrike Gaza_311 reuters
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Vice Premier Silvan Shalom on Wednesday said the situation in Gaza was reminiscent of the run-up Operation Cast Lead in 2009. Three Grad rockets, several Kassam rockets and dozens of mortar shells have been fired into Israeli territory in recent days.
"We may have to consider a return to that operation," Shalom told Israel Radio. "I say this despite the fact that I know such a thing would, of course, bring the region to a far more combustible situation."
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Mid-morning on Wednesday, the IDF struck a rocket launching cell in the northern Gaza Strip that it said was responsible for a Grad attack on Ashdod on Tuesday night. The IDF spokesperson said that it identified a direct hit on the launcher, but reports suggested that the terrorists managed to escape.
Palestinians reported that an Islamic Jihad operative was injured Wednesday morning although it was not clear if he was involved in the same incident.
Shalom said Hamas might have opened a new front with Israel "to stop any possibility of dialogue among the Palestinians or to come to the intra-Palestinian negotiation in a far stronger position."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made conciliatory gestures towards Hamas in recent days, saying he is willing to come to the Gaza Strip in order to reach a unity deal.
Homeland Security Minister Matan Vilna'i told Army Radio Wednesday morning that another military confrontation with Hamas is inevitable.  "It's only a matter of time until we clash with Hamas again," the minister said in an interview.
Following a Grad rocket strike on Ashod Tuesday night that did not result in any injuries, the IDF struck several rocket launching and terrorist cells in the Gaza Strip. According to Israeli and Palestinian reports, upwards of five terrorists were killed in two IDF strikes overnight.
At least nine Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed on Tuesday in separate IDF attacks against targets in the Gaza Strip, marking the bloodiest day in a week of escalating violence in the South.
On Tuesday evening, the IDF spotted a terror cell in the midst of preparing to launch a long-range rocket into Israel.
The IDF attacked the cell, killing four known terrorists who military sources said were behind the Grad-model Katyusha attack on Beersheba last month.
In the afternoon, IDF troops shot mortars into Gaza and accidentally hit civilians in the northern town of Sajaya. The troops fired the mortars after they came under mortar fire from a terror cell that was spotted in a field near the town.
Palestinians reported that four people – aged 58, 12, 16 and 17 – were killed in the strike.
The IDF said that the Southern Command was investigating the incident, but stressed that Hamas was responsible for choosing to operate from within populated areas.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday night “expressing regret” at the loss of innocent life in Gaza, saying it was accidental.
According to the statement, Netanyahu stressed that the IDF mortar-firing had been a reaction to Hamas shelling of Israeli civilians.
“It is unfortunate that Hamas continues to rain down dozens of rockets on Israeli civilians intentionally, while using [their own] civilians as human shields. Israel has no intention of bringing about a deterioration of the situation, but at the same time, the IDF will continue to act decisively to protect Israeli citizens,” the statement read.
Later Tuesday night, an official IDF spokesperson announcement said that IDF aircraft fired on a terrorist in the northern Gaza Strip. The statement said the terrorist was planning to send rockets in the direction of Ashdod.
A short time earlier, four Kassam rockets exploded in open fields in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. No injuries or damages were reported.
Hamas said in a statement that it would respond strongly to Israel’s actions.

Reuters, Yaakov Katz, Khaled Abu Toameh, and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.