'Stop the Kassams or else'

Defense Minister Amir Peretz says "restraint is not our strategy."

homemade kassam 298 (photo credit: AP)
homemade kassam 298
(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Amir Peretz clearly warned Hamas on Wednesday to stop launching rockets at southern Israel or face the wrath of the IDF. Peretz had previously urged restraint and argued instead for the wisdom of specifically targeting only those who actually launch the attacks. Speaking to the Knesset plenum on Wednesday, he said it had been his personal decision not to escalate the IDF response beyond this point. "But I have warned everyone that I have no intention of turning restraint into a strategy," Peretz said. "It is a limited timeout." Peretz's home city of Sderot has been hardest hit since Palestinians began launching an unprecedented barrage of rockets against border communities. Mayor Eli Moyal and many of the residents have called for the IDF to strike the Gaza city of Beit Hanun from the air. Beit Hanun, located some 3.5 kilometers from Sderot, is the site from which most of the rockets are launched into Israel, including the more than 70 Kassams which have fallen in the last five days. Meanwhile, one of 10 city residents who has been on a hunger strike for four days, passed out on Wednesday evening. When she was revived, she refused to stop her liquid only diet. Calling for a harsh military strike, she and other residents have manned a protest tent in the small grassy park by Peretz's home. In the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Peretz said he had sent the warning to Hamas by both overt and covert means and said he knew it had been received by the upper echelons of the Palestinian Authority. Peretz added he believed that the sudden drop in Kassam attacks on Tuesday was proof that they had understood this message. In the plenum, Peretz said his preference would be for both sides to work out their differences within the context of an agreement. There are limits to how effective military operations can be, he said. But he warned that if the violence didn't stop, he had already devised a plan of attack, which he hoped he would never have to use. "Return your arsenal to your storage rooms," he advised the Palestinians. Then he warned, "We know where each storage room is...We won't allow this violence to harm Israeli citizens." Peretz also commented on Tuesday's air strike against Palestinians responsible for launching rockets into Israel, which killed three terrorists and eight civilians. In the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Wednesday, he said that the area was clear of civilians when both the first and second missiles struck some 40 seconds apart. But somehow in the seven seconds it took for the third one to land, people had gathered in the area, he said. Even though it was clear that Tuesday's attack targeted militants intent on launching Kassams, Peretz told the Knesset plenum on Wednesday that he was sorry that innocent civilians, including two children, were killed as a result. Peretz explained that it was only in the last two weeks that Hamas had joined the Islamic Jihad in launching rockets. As a result, he said, the rockets have become more accurate. An intelligence official told the committee that the number of rocket attacks against southern Israel had increased by 50 percent in the last two weeks. He warned that the Palestinians were specifically targeting Sderot and Peretz's home. In the plenum, Peretz praised his neighbors in Sderot and said their fortitude was the most important defensive measure, without which there would be no debate regarding IDF actions. He urged the protesters to end their hunger strike. But in Sderot the residents were not comforted by Peretz's message. Nor did they consider it significant that only one rocket had been launched since late Monday night. One of the hunger strikers and the head of the city's Parent's Association, Batya Katar, warned, "It's the quiet before the storm. There is something unnatural about it." Moyal noted that he would hardly characterize the situation in his city as "quiet." "That's bullshit. A rocket landed near Ashkelon an hour ago," he told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. Katar and other parents are continuing to call for parents to keep their children home from school. Most of the school buildings in the city are not protected against Kassam attacks. The Knesset's Education Committee on Wednesday urged the parents to return their children to school, even though it said it too was concerned about the situation and called for a National Task Force to help the communities bordering Gaza, including Sderot. To underscore the depth of the problem facing those living under attack, Amira Haim, who heads the Education Ministry's southern unit, said that 20 percent of the children in that area were in need of personal psychological treatment. The other children need group psychological treatment, she told the Knesset's Education Committee. Moyal, who traveled to Jerusalem to appear before the committee, told them he believed the numbers were higher. He said that some 60 percent of the city's children suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. "They all need help," he said. While he thanked all those throughout the country from Metula to Eilat who had offered to help his city, it still did not suffice, he said. He estimated that protecting all the public institutions would cost NIS 1 billion. Sending each child out of the city daily for summer programs would cost NIS 1,200 per child. But the government can only provide NIS 420 for each child, he said. But Haim told the committee that there were still measures being taken to counteract the negative impact of the daily stress under which students live. She said that students were being given an extra hour to take tests. A summer semester is being offered for students who want to improve their grades as well. Recreational summer and after school programs are also available, she said. Moyal was unmoved by the words of support he received from the Knesset during his visit there on Wednesday. "I'm kind of pessimistic. The Israeli government had done nothing in the past and will do nothing in the future," said Moyal. Like many of the residents of his city he is of the belief that the only government action that matters is a military strike against Beit Hanun. "We are waiting for the prime minister to come back from Paris," said Moyal, so that they can plead their case before him.•