Eighteen wounded in Tuesday's rocket barrage

Government officials say attacks on Sderot not expected to lead to any dramatic and immediate change in Israel's relative restraint.

woman kassam 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
woman kassam 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
With the security cabinet in the midst of reassessing policy toward the Gaza Strip, Tuesday night's Kassam attacks on Sderot were not expected to lead to any dramatic and immediate change in Israel's relative restraint, government officials said Tuesday evening. Sderot came under attack Tuesday night, and a barrage of 20 Kassam rockets wounded more than 18 people, one seriously. The rocket bombardment started towards the evening, when a salvo of seven rockets slammed into the Negev city. One scored a direct hit on a home, leaving a 45-year-old woman seriously wounded and her son in moderate condition. A number of other people in the home sustained light injuries. Following the rocket onslaught, Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi to discuss possible responses. Hamas took responsibility for the attacks, which it said were retaliation for the shooting of a Palestinian gunman near the Gaza security fence earlier in the day. In addition, Hamas threatened in a statement to fire dozens more rockets at Sderot throughout the night. Defense officials, however, said the attack was most likely connected to the ongoing internal clashes between Fatah and Hamas inside Gaza that killed at least 15 Palestinians Tuesday. According to the officials, the Hamas attack was an attempt to draw attention away from their slaying of eight Fatah security officers earlier in the day and was meant to provoke Israel into invading Gaza, a move that would end the internal fighting and unite Fatah and Hamas against their common Israeli enemy. The IDF has standing cabinet approval to strike at groups launching rockets. And at a security cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stressed that if IDF action inside the Gaza Strip beyond what had already been approved were needed, he and Peretz were empowered to give the green light. The defense officials said the IDF would respond harshly to the attack and that despite the cabinet's decision not to launch an operation in Gaza, Israel might possibly step up its action in the form of targeted killings and pinpointed ground operations along the security fence. Government officials said a major new tactical shift in Israel's response to the Kassams would come, if at all, only after the security cabinet finished its discussions on the matter some time next week. After Tuesday evening's Kassam barrages, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying that "Israel today extended its hand for peace yet again, but has had it rejected by the firing of a series of barrages into Sderot, hitting schools and homes." The statement referred to Olmert's call earlier Tuesday, in a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Aqaba, for negotiations with the Arab League on the Arab Peace Initiative. Israel, the statement said, viewed the attacks as a Hamas "provocation," and "would choose the time and place to respond." Hamas took responsibility for the attacks. Senior sources in the Prime Minister's Office said it was clear that Hamas was trying to provoke a massive Israeli response that would unite the Palestinian factions and put an end to the upswing in internecine Palestinian violence, and that Israel "did not have to lend its hand to Hamas."