Israel to keep targeting rockets

Military told to make plans for possible wide offensive

November 23, 2006|By Ken Ellingwood | Ken Ellingwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

JERUSALEM -- Israeli officials said yesterday that they would continue military actions aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, Israeli troops battled militants there during the latest raid.

Israel's security Cabinet directed the military to draw up plans for a possible wide offensive against militants who fire the crude Kassam rockets, which killed an Israeli man Tuesday. Any broader Gaza incursion, which is advocated by some military commanders and other security officials, would have to be approved separately.

Despite airstrikes, frequent artillery shelling and regular incursions, the Israeli military has been unable to stop the cross-border rocket attacks, which have long disrupted life in southern Israel and killed two people in the past week.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that there is no easy solution to the problem.

"Israel doesn't see this as something that can be solved by one magical action," said Miri Eisin, a government spokeswoman.

Eisin said Israel will continue tactics that include military actions against those who make, store and launch the rockets, and will continue to target smugglers importing explosives. The military also will continue to target commanders of the militant groups behind the attacks.

Yesterday, as mourners buried the latest Israeli victim, militants launched at least eight rockets. Yaakov Yaakobov, 40, was killed Tuesday when a Kassam struck a meatpacking plant in the town of Sderot, a frequent target.

The military wing of the ruling Hamas movement said it had fired two rockets yesterday. Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees also said they had launched rockets.

There has been friction between Olmert and his defense minister, Amir Peretz. Israeli media reported that tensions peaked this week when Olmert expressed his displeasure over a telephone conversation in which Peretz and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas discussed a possible cease-fire.

The daily Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported yesterday that the two Israeli leaders weren't speaking to each other. Peretz has been under public pressure, some of it from his left-leaning Labor Party, to quit the defense post since the recent inconclusive war with Hezbollah guerrillas.

Olmert and Peretz have been heavily criticized for what many Israelis see as a defeat in the 34-day conflict in southern Lebanon. Some analysts consider the recent clash a sign that Olmert wants to dump Peretz. But Peretz, whose party is Olmert's biggest coalition ally, has said that he will not step down.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces operated in the northern Gaza Strip as part of what the military said was a continuing effort to root out Kassams, which have killed eight Israelis in the past three years.

Israeli soldiers backed by tanks and bulldozers moved to the outskirts of Beit Hanoun, where a six-day raid this month left more than 60 Palestinians dead, mostly fighters.

After that incursion, Israeli artillery shells hit a neighborhood, killing 19 civilians. The army said the shells went off course because of a problem with the targeting system.

A spokesman for Hamas' military wing said it was undeterred by threats of more Israeli measures and would continue efforts to improve the rockets.

"We do not care about the Zionist threats," said the spokesman, who goes by Abu Obeida. "We will continue to storm the Israeli towns with our homemade rockets."

Ken Ellingwood writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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