Gaza militants fire rockets after Israeli threat

AP News
Posted: Nov 15, 2011 1:15 PM
Gaza militants fire rockets after Israeli threat

A Palestinian rocket exploded near a kindergarten in southern Israel on Tuesday, police said, just hours after Israel's military chief warned the army would have to carry out a broad offensive in Gaza to stop the rocket salvos.

The kindergarten was empty at the time of the rocket strike, which destroyed a storage shed next to the building. A second rocket landed in an open area nearby, police said.

Earlier Tuesday, Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told a parliamentary committee that the current situation, in which Israel carries out limited reprisals in response to rocket fire, cannot be sustained.

"Eventually we will have to go toward a broader offensive action in Gaza to stop the rockets. We cannot keep on going round after round of violence in Gaza," he was quoted as saying.

Gantz's remarks were relayed by a meeting participant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

The latest flare-up in fighting took place several weeks ago, when Gaza militants fired volleys of rockets that killed one Israeli civilian and wounded several others. Israeli airstrikes targeting the rocket squads killed 10 Palestinian militants.

Over 1 million Israelis live within range of the Gaza rocket fire. The attacks have severely disrupted life in southern Israel.

A senior military official told The Associated Press this week that Hamas, along with smaller militant groups, now possess sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. He said they also have rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Gaza, meaning that Israel's main population center would be in range.

The official said many arms have flooded into Gaza in the wake of the Libyan revolution, with looted weapons making their way through Egypt's Sinai peninsula and into Gaza through smuggling tunnels under the border. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

He said many of these arms have reached Islamic Jihad, responsible for much of the recent rocket fire.

Gantz told the committee Tuesday that the Islamic Jihad is stockpiling weapons and in Gaza, and even Hamas is worried about the buildup.

Hamas has largely avoided the fighting, but Israel holds the group responsible for all attacks from Gaza because it rules Gaza.

Earlier this month the Israeli government authorized its military to take all necessary steps to stop rocket fire from Gaza, including a ground operation. The decision authorized the military to act in accordance with the severity of Palestinian attacks.

Israel launched a three week military campaign in the winter of 2008 aimed at stopping years of rocket fire from Gaza Strip. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

Israel came under harsh criticism for the civilian casualties. Israel blamed Hamas, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.