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20 Jun 2006 14:38
Israel on Tuesday threatened a tougher response to Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, faced with a general strike in the desert town of Sderot to protest the repeated salvos.
“The prime minister, the defence minister, others and myself have reached the conclusion no one will be protected if the ... [rocket] terrorism continues,” the chairperson of Israel’s parliamentary defence and foreign affairs committee, Tsahi Hanegbi, told public radio.
“We know how to show self-restraint, but Israelis are waiting for us to act,” he added, claiming that Defence Minister Amir Peretz had on Monday given his “last warning”.
Shortly afterwards, another rocket fell in open fields near Sderot, causing no damage or injuries, a military source said.
Radical Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired four rockets early on Tuesday.
Israeli aircraft, meanwhile, attacked what the army said was a weapons-making factory in Gaza City operated by the ruling Palestinian faction Hamas and used to make rockets.
Sderot has been besieged by more than 1Â 000 rockets since the second Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000, killing five people.
Amid a spike in violence following the deaths of eight Palestinian picnickers on a Gaza beach on June 9, militants have fired over 130 rockets at Israel, 18 of which fell inside Sderot.
Peretz, himself a resident of the town, has come under criticism from fellow locals for failing to order a tougher military response to the attacks and has been raked over the coals by critics for his own lack of military expertise.
The minister hinted on Monday that he could order a massive operation in a bid to end the rocket attacks—which Israel has proved largely unable to halt over the past six years of the Palestinian uprising.
“We have answers to the Qassam rocket fire and we have no intention of tarrying,” Peretz was quoted as saying by local media on a visit to Sderot.
“Within a few dozen hours there is going to be a drastic change in the security issue, and none of the terror organizations are protected,” the defence minister said.
Peretz, who is considered a dove when it comes to the Middle East conflict, had ordered artillery units to halt fire—Israel’s usual response to rocket attacks—after the eight Palestinians were killed on June 9.
Independent investigators said they were killed by a shell fired by Israel, although a military inquiry cleared the army of any wrongdoing.
The mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported that chief of staff Dan Halutz and his deputy Moshe Kaplinsky began intensive talks on Monday on a possible large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip.
The mayor of Sderot, Elie Moyal, called on his 20Â 000 council staff to go on strike Tuesday to protest against the insecurity.
“All we want is for residents’ security to be guaranteed,” he told public radio, announcing that access to Sderot would be sealed off from 8am local time, with no one allowed to enter or leave except in an emergency.
Tractors sealed off the entrances and exits to the down-at-heel Negev desert town, which lies about a kilometre from the border with the Gaza Strip.
Dozens of protestors gathered at the intersections, causing traffic to build up briefly before nonetheless allowing cars in and out of the town.
Although notoriously inaccurate, primitive Palestinian rockets have caused death, injury, psychological distress and emigration from the predominantly working-class Sderot.
Since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last September, following a 38-year occupation, Sderot has found itself on the front line of such attacks.—AFP
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