Police warns Katyusha fire could reach Ashdod, Kiryat Gat

A handful of Kassam rockets found their way to Jerusalem Monday, but rather than traveling in the hands of terrorists, the devices were brought by police to a press briefing together with an alarming message: with a little improvement in rocket technology by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, the southern edge of Israel's fastest-growing and fifth-largest city could soon find itself under threat. Police warned that if Katyusha rockets, with their improved range, were to form a significant part of Gaza's arsenal, thousands more Israelis would be vulnerable to attack. Ashdod, located just under 25 km from the northern border of the Gaza Strip, could be vulnerable to 122mm Katyusha rockets fired from Gaza - the first of which landed in Israeli territory in March 2006. The inland city of Kiryat Gat, as well as the western Negev development town of Netivot would also be within the crosshairs of the improved device, adding another over 80,000 Israelis to the over 190,000 already under direct threat from rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. Police sapper Dep.-Cmdr. Michael Kardash said that Israel Police had seen similar rockets in the north reaching ranges above 20 km, but that - for reasons he said he could not explain - Katyusha rockets launched from the Gaza Strip had only reached thus far a range of 16.2 km. The Katyusha rocket, said Kardash, offered unquestionable evidence that terror groups were successfully smuggling weapons from outside of the Gaza Strip. In comparison, said Kardash, displaying a number of Kassam-type rockets, the smaller devices all seemed likely to be produced locally within the Gaza Strip. He did, however, note that Palestinian terror groups had updated the rockets' payload from home-made explosive material to regular TNT. The TNT, he said, was most likely also smuggled in to the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian border. Most of the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip by various terror organizations including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Fatah's Al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, range from 90-115mm and carry a payload of between 3-5 kg. of explosives for approximately 9 km, although the Hamas's Kassam 2 has been upgraded to reach a range of 10 km. while carrying up to 10 kg. of TNT. According to data presented by the IDF, since the first Kassam rocket landed at Kibbutz Nir Am in January of 2001, 7,463 rockets and mortars have been fired at Israeli civilian targets. Kardash also said that it seems that it is important for some terror groups that the Israeli authorities correctly identify their rockets as opposed to those of competing organizations - and to that end, the PIJ tends to write "Kuds" in at least two languages on their color-coded black-and-yellow rockets, so that they do not 'accidentally' get confused with the Hamas-built Kassam. But whether Kuds, Kassam or even the Palestinian Resistance Committee's less-common Nasser, Kardash says, the efficiency of the IDF in responding to initial incidents of rocket fire has reduced the accuracy of the weapons despite their improved technology. Terrorists, he explained, frequently adjust their fire to improve their position after the first rocket lands - but thanks to increased IAF pressure, terrorists are now less likely to stick around and fire the second rocket from the same location.