IAF strikes in Gaza after Kassam attack

6 targets hit, 2 reported wounded; Security sources: Hamas not behind attack.

air strike rubble 298 (photo credit: AP)
air strike rubble 298
(photo credit: AP)
IAF aircraft struck six targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Thursday, in response to a Kassam attack that killed a foreign worker in Netiv Ha’asara earlier in the day.
The army said it struck three smuggling tunnels on the Egyptian border, a weapons production facility and two tunnels intended for infiltration into Israel to carry out attacks.
Two Palestinians were reportedly wounded in the strikes.
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The Kassam rocket slammed into a greenhouse in the small southern agricultural community of Moshav Netiv Ha’asara on Thursday, ripping through the roof, killing a Thai worker and leaving his coworkers, who came to his aid, traumatized.
The incident marks the first death from Gazan rocket attacks since Operation Cast Lead ended last year.
Senior defense officials had vowed to respond harshly to the attack, but said they would keep its response isolated, to avoid being drawn into a larger-scale conflict with Hamas.
IDF sources said that the rocket was not fired by Hamas, and by Thursday evening the terrorist group was reportedly rounding up suspects behind the attack for interrogations.
“It is currently not in Hamas’s interest to attack Israel,” one senior officer said, noting that while Hamas has attacked IDF border patrols since Operation Cast Lead last year, it has refrained from firing rockets into Israel.
“Hamas’s current policy is to keep the situation quiet so it can continue to build up its military infrastructure ahead of a future conflict with Israel,” the officer said.
The Thai foreign worker, in his 30s, was killed by a Kassam rocket that scored a direct hit on a greenhouse, spraying shrapnel and small potted plants in all directions.
Magen David Adom paramedics tried to resuscitate the man and stem his blood loss, but he succumbed to his wounds shortly afterwards.
Policemen, headed by Sderot station commander Dep.-Cmdr. Shimon Nahmani, and IDF personnel converged on the site.
“This is the third rocket attack that has directly targeted an Israeli community in the past 24 hours,” Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
“The rocket fired was a standard Kassam-type projectile, capable of killing anyone in its radius who did not take cover,” he added. “We are assessing the security situation in the western Negev in light of recent events.”
Yair Farjun, chairman of the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, said the dead man had worked on the moshav for three years and eight months.
“He drove a tractor. He was always smiling. He learned how to speak Hebrew,” Farjun told The Jerusalem Post.
“These attacks do not target the army, and are not part of a military confrontation. The Palestinians are targeting farmers who work their land, civilians, and children.
“A price tag must be set, so that the Hamas government, supported by Iran and Hizbullah, will not think they can fire on us at will and that we will wait for things to get really bad before responding. We are on the front line here,” Farjun said.
“The international community must wake up. We have left Gaza, so what do the Palestinians want now? They are not building up their own economy and society in Gaza. They have turned it into one big military camp, and a base for terrorism,” he said.
“All of these incidents are happening not because Israel is building in Jerusalem, or because a synagogue was opened in the Old City in Jerusalem, they are happening because the Palestinians want all Jews out of this land and seek the destruction of Israel,” Farjun said. “It’s time for the world to know the truth. Those who want to see reality should come here.”
Thai farm workers “are part of our family and community. We make our living by working the land. If the work becomes untenable, our farming will come to a standstill,” Farjun said.
The rocket was apparently fired from deep within the Gaza Strip, he said, citing the IDF Home Front Command. He added that a long-range attack would explain why almost a full minute passed between the sounding of the Color Red warning siren and the rocket’s impact.
“Usually, rockets land 15 seconds after the siren. This time, nearly a minute separated the siren from the impact. From what I understand, this rocket was fired from central Gaza. The man who was killed today lay on the ground when the siren went off, but stood up after 20 seconds,” Farjun said.
Small bomb shelters have been erected near the greenhouses and were situated close to the work areas, allowing workers to reach them within 15 seconds, he said.
“Some of the workers ran toward the shelters, while others lay on the ground,” he added.
A small Islamist faction calling itself Ansar al-Sunna claimed responsibility for the attack. Fatah’s Aksa Martyrs Brigades later also claimed responsibility.
Speaking from the site of the attack on Thursday evening, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) said, “This is one rocket out of 12,000 that the citizens of Israel have endured in recent years. The responsibility for this attack rests with Hamas.”
Ayalon said the attacks were a result of Hamas incitement to violence.
“While Israel continues to extend its hand in peace, the other side not only refuses to come to the negotiating table, but continues to incite recklessly against Israel,” he said. “Israel still seeks peace and calls for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions; however, the incitement must end.”
Referring to the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead, Ayalon said the document “provides legitimacy and a propulsion for terrorism and is immoral and unprofessional. With or without the report, Israel will continue to defend its citizens. I call on those who voted for the Goldstone Report to come and see the consequences.”
IDF sources said that since Cast Lead, most rocket attacks against Israel have been carried out by hardline groups such as Ansar al-Sunna, affiliated with al-Qaida and global jihad. These groups consist of a few thousand followers and several hundred armed men, many of them former Hamas fighters who left in protest of the ruling movement’s current policy of refraining from attacking Israel.
Israel’s considerations in restraining its response have to do firstly with the government’s desire to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and secondly with the diplomatic crisis with the United States, which would likely not support Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) warned that the rocket attack would lead to a strong reaction, and said that Hamas was ultimately responsible.
“It is severe escalation,” Shalom said. “Israel will not return to the situation of before Operation Cast Lead. The response will be particularly fierce... I hope Hamas will learn a lesson.”
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i (Labor) held a security assessment with officials from the IDF Home Front Command to discuss the level of protection in the area of greenhouses near the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas is in control of Gaza and Israel will hold Hamas responsible for every rocket attack originating in Gaza,” Vilna’i said. “Israel is not interested in a military conflict but will not allow rocket fire against its civilians.”
After the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Netiv Ha’asara became the closest community in Israel to the Gaza Strip, located 400 meters away from the edge of the Palestinian town of Beit Lahiya. At the southern edge of the moshav, a car park was converted into an IDF base and tanks were deployed. An electric fence was erected to stop infiltrators from Gaza, and three concrete walls were built against Palestinian snipers.
AP contributed to this report.