Heavy IDF artillery barrages on unpopulated areas in the northern Gaza Strip may hamper terrorists' movements, but efforts by the army to avoid harming innocent civilians often means that those firing Kassam rockets are able to escape unharmed, a senior Artillery Corps officer told The Jerusalem Post. "Before we fire shells, we take great care to ensure that there are no innocent civilians or farmers in the targeted site," he said. "If someone plans a rocket attack ahead of time, they can reach the site and fire the rocket and flee within two minutes." A number of dud shells, or shells without explosives, are often fired to allow artillery units to get their bearings on the target before firing "real" shells, the officer said. "In order not to harm Palestinian civilians, we fire duds, which act as an indicator and guide us when they fall. Then the direction of the target is corrected and real shells are fired." While the firing of duds is a relatively short process, it can take longer if units are firing at a number of targets at the same time, he said. "If there are several targets, we can fire three duds at each target," he said. The heavy barrages of artillery fire in response to rocket attacks have residents of communities near Gaza suffering countless nights of interrupted sleep. With the upsurge of Kassam attacks, the Artillery Corps has become an integral component in the IDF's response to rocket fire. While artillery is only one of the tools at the army's disposal, no single action will stop the Kassams, the officer said. The advantages of artillery often outweigh its disadvantages, he said. "The distance capability of artillery fire is 19.5 to 20 kilometers. This means that we can launch in-depth strikes without having to deploy soldiers and risk lives," he said. Another advantage of the artillery is its availability, no matter what the weather conditions, he added. "At two or three in the morning, with heavy rain falling, artillery is immediately available, unlike other measures." While other officers admitted that more aggressive action would need to be taken to bring a complete halt to the rocket fire, they rejected suggestions that the army's hands were tied or restrained by current government policy. "We have at our disposal an array of options. The ongoing battle against the Kassam rockets consists of a combination of artillery, intelligence and air power," one of the officers said. Defense Ministry sources noted that while Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered the army to escalate its response, a widespread ground offensive in Gaza is not on the agenda.