Kassam rocket falls closer to Ashkelon

Despite the intensive shelling of uninhabited northern Gaza areas by IDF artillery units, and the targeted air strikes against rocket manufacturers and crews, a Kassam rocket landed in the industrial zone south of Ashkelon on Wednesday, exploding harmlessly. A second rocket exploded in open fields between two kibbutzim located near the northern Gaza security fence. No one was wounded and no damage reported. There are presently no plans to change the military strategy, and the intensive shelling and air force strikes will continue, security officials said. They stressed that no one can guarantee a complete halt to the Kassam rocket attacks. A possible ground offensive in response to the recent attacks was not being considered at present, officials said. One must examine the entire picture and also note the army's achievements in thwarting rocket and terror attacks, a senior IDF officer declared. Since the disengagement from Gaza, over 40 Palestinian terrorists have been killed, 24 of them while attempting to infiltrate Israel and launch attacks, the officer added. "In the past four days, artillery units have fired over 300 shells at northern Gaza sites, in addition to the four air strikes," the officer said. "It is not a ping-pong game; they fire a rocket and we respond. We will decide the time and place to act, and up until now our response has been a painful and harsh one. "We will continue, until they come to the realization that terror does not pay," he added. The officer rejected criticism that the shelling of empty areas in northern Gaza has failed to deter the terror cells from launching rockets. "Our actions of recent days has seriously hampered their movement," he said. It is not the first time rockets have landed in the industrial zone. In recent months, at least five rockets have fallen in the area, landing in dunes near the industrial zone or inside the compound, causing damage but no casualties. A number of strategic installations are located in the industrial zone, including a major power station, oil pipelines and a desalination plant. Workers in the plant told reporters they heard a large explosion and some workers panicked, while others ran outside. In December, when a rocket exploded in an IDF base located close to Ashkelon, wounding five soldiers, then Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that if the rocket fire on Ashkelon continued, no option would be ruled out, including a ground operation. The spate of rockets falling closer and closer to Ashkelon forced the army to embark on Operation Blue Skies, whereby the former settlements of Dugit, Nisanit and Elei Sinai - the area identified as being the site from where the rockets were launched - was declared a no-go zone, and Palestinians were warned that anyone spotted entering the area would do so at their own risk. Meanwhile earlier in the day, IDF units shot and killed one armed Palestinian and wounded another after they were seen approaching the northern Gaza security fence south of the Karni crossing. According to the army, soldiers saw a group of armed Palestinians approaching the fence, with one carrying a bag containing a suspected bomb. Soldiers then shot two of the Palestinians. The dead man was later identified as Muhammad Al Huer, a member of the Fatah Al Aksa Brigades. In the West Bank, security forces arrested nine Palestinian fugitives in raids in Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron. In the afternoon, Haruv Batallion soldiers arrested one Palestinian after they found a homemade rifle in his bag. The soldiers, manning a checkpoint at Assira a-Shamaliya near Nablus, stopped a Palestinian taxi for inspection. The arrested man was one of seven passengers in the taxi.