Palestinian Rockets Rain on Southern Israel

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Palestinian Rockets Rain on Southern Israel

Jerusalem ( - Islamic Jihad reportedly is claiming responsibility for Wednesday morning's rocket attack on the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

The early-morning barrage came just one day after Israel publicized for the first time that it was sending commando units deep into the northern Gaza Strip to ambush and intercept the rocket-firing squads.

The forays more than a mile into the Gaza Strip mark a tactical change in the way Israel is dealing with the terror cells that moved into the area after Israel pulled out eight months ago.

"We're doing everything we can to stop [the rocket fire]," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's advisor Dr. Ra'anan Gissin. "We're using different tactics. There is a marked reduction in the number of rockets."

(Press reports on Wednesday quoted one military officer as saying that "new technology" also would help Israel pinpoint the rocket launchers.)

Since Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last September, more than 440 rockets have landed inside Israel, some doing extensive damage but none - so far - causing any deaths.

On Wednesday, two Kassam rockets hit homes in Sderot; a landed in another western Negev community, and a fourth rocket landed in a field.

Israeli artillery pounded the Gaza Strip after Wednesday's early-morning attack, as it has done after similar attacks in the past. More than 100 Palestinian militants have been killed in Gaza and 10 Kassam rocket firing cells have been eliminated in recent months, radio reports said on Wednesday.

Some military officials have suggested that the only way to permanently stop the rocket attacks is to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.

But Gissin said that while Israel intended to keep up the pressure on both the terrorists and the Palestinian Authority, it did not intend to reoccupy Gaza.

Militarily, it is easier for Israel to operate since the settlements have been removed, said Gissin. Now Israel faces "the problem of protecting the border and the towns" there, he said.

Israel's disengagement from Gaza gave Israel "greater freedom of action," he said, because there has been an "international acquiescence" to the fact that Israel is defending itself.

'Air, sea and land'

One of the projectiles that crashed into Sderot on Wednesday hit the home of Moti Ashkenazi, the neighbor of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who is from Sderot.

Peretz visited the house a short time later and said that Israel would "find a way" to prevent the firing of rockets toward Israel communities.

On Tuesday, Peretz pledged that Israel would keep up "large-scale" military activity against the rocket launchers "by air, sea and land." He spoke after Israeli special forces units, operating in Gaza, killed four Islamic Jihad terrorists who were on their way to fire Kassam rockets.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community and particularly members of the Quartet -- the U.S., European Union, Russia and United Nations -- to intervene on behalf of the Palestinians.

But there was very little international condemnation of Tuesday's Israeli strike on the rocket-launching terrorists.

Sderot spokesman Yossi Cohen said that people there were angry but life was going on as normal. "It doesn't surprise us. We expect that we will always be in the headlines. We live from miracle to miracle," said Cohen by telephone.

Sderot -- a city of 23,000 -- has been pummeled by Kassam rockets for years, including one attack that killed two people.

Cohen said he could not make a recommendation of what needed to be done but he was sure that the army would respond much harder if one day "the miracle does not come."

Subscribe to the free daily E-Brief.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.