Two Kassams land near Ashkelon

PM: Israel will continue policy of restraint, but use "pinpoint" retaliation.

kassams awesome 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
kassams awesome 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Two Kassam rockets were fired from northern Gaza Wednesday evening, landing in the vicinity of kibbutzim south of Ashkelon. No one was wounded and no damage was reported in the incidents. Earlier Wednesday, Israel said it would continue to adhere to the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and will demand that the Palestinians take immediate steps against those firing Kassam rockets.
  • Editorial: Sderot's shattered windows In an emergency meeting between Prime Minster Ehud Olmert and leaders of the security establishment Wednesday morning it was also decided Israel would resume targeting Kassam launching cells. Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz instructed the security establishment to target the cells, something IDF troops have refrained from doing in recent weeks. "The defense establishment has been instructed to take pinpoint action against the rocket-launching cells," Olmert's office said after the morning meeting. "At the same time, Israel will continue to abide by the cease-fire." The meeting was called after the previous night's rocket attack on Sderot that wounded two boys, one critically. Hamas government spokeswoman Ghazi Hamad denounced the Israeli decision to "continue their aggression against our people," but added: "We still believe that this agreement is alive, and both sides should respect this agreement because it is (in) the interest (of) our people." Hours after the decision, a Kassam rocket, fired by Palestinians from Gaza, landed in Sderot. No casualties were reported. Abu Hamza, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said the group was not moved by Olmert's threat. "Any harm to our leaders will be met with a harsh response," he said. He said the rocket fire was a response to Israeli arrests of operatives in the West Bank, which is not covered by the truce. He also expressed hope that renewed fighting with Israel would help end internal Palestinian violence. Battles between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement have killed 17 Palestinians in Gaza since Dec. 11. Earlier Wednesday, senior defense officials called on Olmert to give the IDF a green light to strike back at the Palestinian terrorists behind the firing of seven Kassam rockets at the western Negev the previous day. One of Tuesday's Kassams, fired at Sderot after nightfall, left 13-year-old Adir Bas'ad critically wounded from shrapnel. Overnight, doctors managed to stabilize his condition and there is no longer a threat to his life. His friend, Matan Cohen, is listed in moderate condition. Another rocket, fired earlier in the day, landed next to a strategic installation in the Ashkelon Industrial Zone. "It is time to strike back," a high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post. "The government is holding us back from responding and makes us look weak and vulnerable, as if there is nothing we can do." Following the nighttime attack, Peretz called Olmert and urged him to change the restraint policy. "We cannot continue to restrain ourselves," Peretz said to Olmert. "We cannot let Islamic Jihad do whatever they want and we need to take action to stop the Kassams." Deputy Prime Minister and Industry and Trade Minister, Eli Yishai, said on Wednesday morning that "the egg timer of restraint was turned off last night and (this) requires a show of strength. Yishai urged Olmert and Perertz to end their policy of restraint against the continuing Kassam rocket attacks, saying that it was "impossible to uphold a cease-fire when only one side adheres to it." Ahead of a meeting between Olmert and Peretz, Yishai said that the Palestinians had "interpreted the policy of restraint as policy of invitation," Army Radio reported. Tuesday night's Kassam barrage also left three other people in shock while major damage was caused to nearby cars and buildings. Witnesses described a chaotic scene following the attack, as agitated residents came out of their homes to survey the damage. Windows were shattered, and frustration and anger prevailed. "Our children are getting hurt over here and nobody's doing anything about this," one resident shouted. "We can't go out anywhere, not to the shopping mall, or anywhere," another resident said. Others vented their anger at the press members who were covering the incident. "You guys are going to interview us and maybe show a minute or two, but you don't really feel our pain," one resident accused. Minutes after the attack, a mortar shell was fired at an IDF outpost along the Gaza Strip security fence. No one was injured. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Kassam attack. Magen David Adom rescue services rushed to the scene and evacuated the wounded to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. On Wednesday morning, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, called on the government to end its policy of restraint, adding that the IDF must take control of the areas from where Palestinians were firing missiles at Israel, Israel Radio reported. Netanyahu went on to say that the IDF must take control of key positions including the Philadelphi Corridor in order to stop weapons smuggling, but he emphasized that there was no need to remain in the area indefinitely. " We must define downing the Hamas government as our number one aim," added Netanyahu. Early Tuesday morning, four Kassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards Sderot. Three rockets fell in open territory outside the city, causing neither casualties nor damage. One landed inside the city near a home and the explosion damaged cars and buildings but no one was wounded. A total of 62 rockets have been fired at Israel since the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire in the Gaza Strip was declared in November. Olmert is also expected to hold security consultations to discuss whether Israel should end its policy of restraint in the face of continued Palestinian infractions of the Gaza cease-fire. The Southern Command is currently under orders to hold its fire even when soldiers spot Islamic Jihad Kassam cells before they launch the rockets. At the same time, officials in the Prime Minister's Office pointed out Tuesday that even with the rocket attacks, the cease-fire has succeeded in reducing the number of attacks from some 240 in the month preceding to 62 rockets in the month since it ostensibly went into effect. The officials said Olmert's thinking in regard to continuing the policy of restraint also has to do with the "diplomatic points" the policy is winning Israel in the international community, along with the concern that a military incursion into Gaza could unite warring Hamas and Fatah factions against Israel. Regarding world opinion, one senior government official said the policy has earned Israel a great deal of credit abroad, especially in Europe, and has, together with Olmert's recent speech at Sde Boker, presented Israel as the party willing to act in a manner that could move the diplomatic process forward. With respect to Palestinian infighting, the official said that while Israel did not want to see a Hamas-Fatah bloodbath in Gaza, it also didn't want to be the catalyst for the two factions to unite and focus their energy against the IDF. AP contributed to this report