Car bomb neutralized near road to Gush Etzion

Kassam rockets lands in Ashkelon's industrial zone, six others in western Negev.

iaf airstrike car 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
iaf airstrike car 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A car bomb filled with cans of gasoline was discovered and disarmed by security forces near Beit Jala, near Bethlehem, on Thursday afternoon, the IDF reported. The army suspects the vehicle was intended to be exploded on the Bethlehem bypass road (the tunnels road) connecting Jerusalem to Gush Etzion. A Palestinian tipster informed security forces about the bomb, and sappers succeeded in neutralizing it. Late Wednesday night, meanwhile, the IDF responded to a Palestinian mortar attack from Gaza with artillery and aerial bombardment. The army shelled rocket and mortar launch sites near Beit Hanun, as well as known paths to them. However, these attacks did not prevent another round of Kassam rocket launchings on Thursday. An afternoon barrage of rockets struck fields in the Western Negev and as far north as the industrial zone of Ashkelon. There was no damage in the rocket strikes, but they drew swift retaliatory fire by the IDF's 155mm. howitzer artillery, which pounded the launching sites. There were no reports of casualties. The air force struck a building in the Jabalya refugee camp that was said to be used as an ammunition dump by the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) as well as a Rafah office of the Islamic Jihad. Both Palestinian groups were subject to targeted killings on Wednesday. While the Islamic Jihad terrorists escaped assassination, four members of the PRC were killed when a missile hit their explosive-laden car in northern Gaza. The four were on their way to perpetrate a bombing at the Karni crossing, the army said. In the West Bank early Thursday, security forces arrested 17 wanted men, including one Hamas and two Tanzim members picked up in Tulkarm by the Nahshon Battalion. The Kassam that hit the southern outskirts of Ashkelon was the first to hit the industrial zone in two and a half years. A guard at a beer factory heard the detonation of the warhead nearby and located the remnants of the homemade rocket. Earlier this week, a Kassam extended its reach beyond Sderot, landing in an empty field between the city and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Sycamore Ranch. Military sources said this distance was achieved due to the rockets' being launched closer to the border, and that the Kassams did not have improved range. "They still haven't passed the eight-kilometer range, but they are working constantly on this," said a senior IDF officer. Four other Kassams fell in the Western Negev earlier, one each near Moshav Shuva, Kibbutz Nahal Oz, the northern security fence and Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. One of the rockets landed amid a group of kibbutz members harvesting carrots. "When you see all of the shrapnel you understand how fatal it could have been," farmer Eitan Stern told Army Radio. "It took a few moments for it to sink in and then we went back to work." The Kassam barrage came shortly after the Defense Ministry announced Thursday afternoon that it was delaying Thursday's scheduled opening of the convoy route for the Palestinians between the Gaza Strip and West Bank.