Israeli woman killed by rocket

November 16, 2006|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian rocket killed a woman in Israel early yesterday in the first fatal strike in more than a year by militants firing from the Gaza Strip.

The deadly salvo prompted Israel to warn of stepped-up actions against the crude Kassam rockets, which have often disrupted life for Israelis near the Gaza border but rarely proved deadly.

"We will not allow these attacks to continue. Israel is compelled to take whatever steps it deems necessary to thwart such attacks and to allow Israelis to live in peace," said David Baker, an official in the office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The 57-year-old Israeli woman died after the rocket hit Sederot, a working-class town a mile from the border frequently targeted by the Palestinian militants. Also injured was a guard for Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose home is not far from where the rocket struck.

An attack later in the day seriously injured a 17-year-old boy in Sederot. The salvos were among more than a dozen rockets fired into southern Israel during the day, including at least four that hit the city of Ashkelon.

Islamic Jihad and the military wing of Hamas each said it had launched rockets to avenge the deaths of 19 civilians who died last week when Israeli artillery shells struck a neighborhood in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. Israel said the shells went off course because of problems with the targeting system.

Peretz summoned security officials and threatened a harsh response to yesterday's rocket strikes. Late in the day, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at a house in Gaza belonging to a militant with the Popular Resistance Committees after warning his family to get out, the Reuters news service reported. A person outside the building was treated for wounds, witnesses said.

Israel has generally been quick to answer Kassam attacks with military force. But the military has been unable to bring an end to the nearly daily barrages despite raids into northern Gaza, airstrikes and artillery shelling against guerrillas who fire from fields and groves near the border.

Yesterday's attack produced fresh outrage among Sederot residents, who have demonstrated outside Peretz's home to protest what they consider inadequate steps to protect them. Parents have gone to court to demand that schools be reinforced to withstand Kassam rockets, but the government says it is unable to provide complete protection.

"We have grown accustomed to the state's dismissive approach toward the people of Sederot and the area," Yaffa Malka, a hairdresser in the town, told Israel Radio. "And it is a shame that the world, state, government and press do not take the Kassams as a serious problem until they claim a life. The people here are living in terrible distress."

The army said about 1,000 Palestinian rockets have been launched at communities in southern Israel this year. More than 100 were fired since Nov. 1, the military said.

Kassam strikes have killed seven Israelis, all but one in Sederot, since June 2004. The most recent death before yesterday was in July 2005. Israeli business leaders say the attacks have caused about $9 million in economic damage during the past three years.

Militant groups, including the ruling Hamas movement, had vowed to retaliate after Israeli shells killed Palestinian civilians last week. That incident occurred after the Israeli army wrapped up a six-day raid in Beit Hanoun directed against the rocket-launching teams. It was the first time that Israel's military had retaken a Gaza town after leaving the strip last year.

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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