Senior official: Iran behind rocket fire

IAF strike kills 1 Fatah man, hurts 3; 16 in shock as missile hits Ashkelon home; 12 Kassams hit Negev.

Gaza rubble brill 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza rubble brill 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Rockets continued to hit Ashkelon and the western Negev after the IDF ground operations in the Gaza Strip were concluded early Monday morning. As the defense establishment began to analyze the recent days of fighting, intelligence officers pointed an accusatory finger toward Teheran. Iranian technology and intelligence was used by Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip in the recent round of violence, said a senior official in Military Intelligence during a Monday meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "Iran's influence and effect is very clear," said the official. Terrorists fired at least 20 Iranian-assembled Grad-type rockets, which are significantly more damaging than the Kassam rockets that have been fired at Sderot and the western Negev for the past seven years, said the official. He added that the recent round of violence had been triggered when Israeli Air Force planes bombed a car carrying operatives - two of whom had been trained in Iran - while they were on their way to the Gaza-Israel border to launch a terror attack. In the course of the operations over the weekend, the official said, the IAF also bombed the largest rocket factory in Gaza, killing the rocket-building technician and his family in a subsequent attack on their home. "Hamas was surprised by the weight and strength of the IDF operation in Gaza," the official noted. Military Intelligence was concerned that while the IDF was confronting the ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, a new attack on Israel could be launched in the North, said the official. "Hizbullah is weighing the situation and preparing its forces. In return we must prepare our forces," said the official. Hours after the troop pullout, the human rights organization B'Tselem said that the IDF had grossly understated the number of non-combatants killed in the Gaza operation, claiming that "at least half of those killed in Gaza did not take part in the fighting." During the Sunday Cabinet meeting, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi assessed that of the Palestinians killed in IDF activities in Gaza since the February 27, 90 percent were armed combatants. However, B'Tselem claimed on Monday that at least 54 of the dead (25 of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. The IDF estimated that approximately 100 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, while Palestinian medical officials said that 116 Palestinians were killed. B'Tselem's count thus far has reached 106, but the organization noted that it had not yet conducted a thorough examination. Also Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak emphasized that counter-terror operations in Gaza would continue, adding that the Hamas was dealt "a heavy blow" in the recent IDF activity. Later, during a Labor faction meeting, Barak stressed that the ultimate goal of the operation was to restore calm to the residents of southern Israel. "We will achieve this," he pledged, and added that the IDF would come out on top in the continuing military campaign. Defense experts emphasized that while the troops ended their presence in northern Gaza early Monday morning, the three-day operation was only a small part of planned IDF activities in the area. Still, hours after Givati Brigade infantry and Armored Corps returned to Israel from northern Gaza on Monday morning after completing the first stage of Operation Hot Winter, a Grad rocket slammed into the seventh floor of an apartment building in central Ashkelon. Another two Grads hit the city, one landing near a kindergarten. Four people were wounded and 32 people were treated for shock at the city's Barzilai Hospital after the morning attack. A total of 14 Kassam rockets landed in the western Negev Monday, with eight pounding Sderot in the morning and four others landing in open areas that are part of the Eshkol Regional Council. Another barrage, this time directed at the Sha'ar Hanegev area, sent two additional rockets into the agricultural region in the afternoon hours. No one was wounded and no damage was reported in those attacks. Meanwhile the IDF continued to carry out air strikes targeting Hamas operatives and Kassam-launching cells. On Monday evening, IAF forces attacked what they said were two Kassam-launching cells operating in Beit Hanun. At least one armed Palestinian was reported killed in the air strike. Another IAF strike targeted - and destroyed - a wagon that was observed to be carrying rockets ready for launch. Overnight air strikes Sunday killed five Hamas operatives, Palestinian sources reported. The army said that the IAF was targeting weapons storage and manufacturing facilities.