Islamic Jihad: We have 22-km range rockets

Group confirms three men killed in Saturday's IAF strike were on way to fire Kassams.

Islamic Jihad dead 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
Islamic Jihad dead 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
The Islamic Jihad has developed a new rocket, it was announced early Sunday. The group said that the new rocket had a range of 22 kilometers and was capable of striking areas south of Ashkelon, Israel Radio reported. Meanwhile, the organization confirmed that its three members killed in Saturday night's IAF strike in Gaza were on their way to fire Kassam rockets into Israel in apparent retaliation for last week's IDF operation in Bethlehem in which four of its operatives were gunned down. The group issued a statement asserting that Israel cannot loosen the ties between Gaza and the West Bank and that the responses to IDF operations would continue to come from the Strip. In an earlier air strike on Saturday, three Gazans, whom the IDF said were also planning to fire Kassams, were wounded. Palestinian medical officials confirmed that all of the dead and wounded were members of Islamic Jihad. The resumption of air strikes came after six Kassam rockets hit the western Negev over the weekend, without causing injury or damage. On Thursday, 28 rockets fired by Islamic Jihad hit Israel. Defense officials said it was possible that the Islamic Jihad members killed in the air strike were the cell behind the rocket fire that seriously wounded the Twito brothers in Sderot on February 9 where eight-year old Osher lost his left leg. The operation was conducted with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Saturday's air strikes were the first IDF attacks against Gaza since March 6, when a terrorist spotted near Kassam launch pads was shot. It also followed a little over a week of speculation that Israel had agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas through Egyptian mediation that included an end to Israeli attacks against Hamas officials. Israel has denied the existence of such an agreement. Also on Saturday, soldiers discovered two roadside bombs along the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip. On Friday, an IAF attack helicopter was hit for the first time over Gaza by anti-aircraft sub-machine guns. The helicopter was lightly damaged and succeeded in landing at a nearby air force base base. The IAF believes that Hamas has smuggled anti-aircraft guns and shoulder-to-air missiles into Gaza from Sinai. The Islamist organization is believed to have more than a dozen Russian-made KPV-14.5mm machine guns. Israel has instituted a number of precautionary measures, including only operating helicopters over Gaza that are equipped with anti-missile defense systems. Abu Obeida, spokesman of the Hamas military wing, Izzadin Kassam, said that in Friday's incident Hamas operatives fired at a helicopter with machine guns from several directions. "This is progress for the resistance," Abu Obeida said. "It's a message to the occupation that our resistance men will confront the Zionist war planes, vehicles and soldiers with any means they get." He said the machine guns were confiscated from Fatah-controlled PA security headquarters during last June's violent showdown between the two main Palestinian movements. "We took them, we fixed them and we are using them now to defend our people," Abu Obeida said. AP contributed to this report