Barak orders lockdown of Gaza, Hamas vows revenge
rockets hit southern Israel in last 72 hours while Israeli strikes against
terror cells in Gaza leave at least 25 Palestinians killed. Defense
minister vows IDF will bring end to incessant barrages, orders complete
closure of coastal territory. Gaza vicinity resident: 'Army has failed
More than 40 Qassam rockets landed in and around the town of Sderot and
its neighboring communities in the western Negev on Tuesday, wounding
|Make Gazans choose /
Gaza Strip residents
must reject terrorism – or face the consequences
Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the region accompanied by regional
army commanders and vowed Israel would put an end to the Palestinian rocket
attacks from the Gaza Strip.
The defense minister could not give a timetable for his pledge but said
he had ordered the IDF to intensify and deepen its ongoing pinpointed
operations against terror cells in the Hamas-controlled coastal territory. The army was also
instructed by Barak to continue preparing for a possible wide-scale
operation in the Strip while simultaneously tightening the closure imposed
on its border crossings.
Qassams land near
Sderot (Photo: Amir Cohen)
"The IDF will continue its ongoing operations and expand them in order
to target Qassam launchers, until the rocket fire stops. This will not be
simple and will not happen over the weekend, but we will see to it that
the attacks on Sderot stop," Barak said.
At present time only authorized personnel and goods are allowed through
the crossings, but Barak's instructions call for all movement in or out of
Gaza to be halted. Only humanitarian cases will be allowed special
consideration. Israel's supply of fuel and electricity to Gaza will also
be cut back under the defense minister's orders. The measures approved by
Barak will, for now, only be in effect for several days and are intended
to increase pressure on terror groups and sever connections between Israel
and Gaza as much as possible.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited with the haggard residents of the
Gaza vicinity and said he would not lie to them about the fortification of
their towns from rocket attacks. "Ultimately I do not want to and cannot
argue with the difficulties you face, when you hear the rocket sirens. I
know how terrible it must be to live this way, and there are things that
still will not be as you wish they were – but we are counting on your
fortitude, on your determination, on your resilience," he said.
But as he spoke rockets continued to fall outside and the residents
minced no words in expressing their frustration with the situation: "The
Palestinians have got us in their crosshairs, they can see the whites of
our eyes. The army has failed in protecting us. The government needs to
decide whether we have security or not," said a member of Kibbutz Ein
Hashlosha, where an Ecuadorian volunteer was shot and killed by a
Palestinian sniper on Tuesday.
Meanwhile Hamas' military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,
declared a series of responsive measures will be taken against Israel,
including massive rocket barrages and numerous terror attacks – this in
response to the IDF's operations in Gaza over the past several days.
At least 25 Palestinians, including the son of a prominent Hamas
strongman have been killed in IDF strikes since Tuesday. Most were gunmen.
In the most recent attack the IDF targeted a Hamas outpost near Gaza
City, killing two Hamas members and wounding three others. Earlier on
Thursday Israel killed Popular Resistance Committees leader, Raad Abu
al-Ful. Palestinian officials said al-Ful's wife also died in the attack
on the couple's car.
Also on Thursday Israel evening targeted a car in northern Gaza,
killing three Palestinians - a woman and her son on a donkey cart next to
the vehicle and an unidentified man, Palestinian hospital officials said.
The Israeli military said the airstrike was aimed at a rocket squad.
US, UN weigh in
A US State Department spokesman urged Israel to avoid civilian
casualties. "There have been some Israeli actions that have been described
as acts of self-defense. Certainly they have every right to act in their
self defense. It's well documented the Qassam rockets attacks have been
coming out of Gaza and are unabated at this point," he said.
"Certainly in exercising the right to self defense, we would encourage
Israel, as we do with our own armed forces, to make every possible effort
to avoid any harm to civilians."
Meanwhile United National Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was
"deeply concerned at the current escalation of violence in Gaza and
southern Israel, as well as in the West Bank."
In a written statement issued by his office, the UN leader said he was
"troubled by the heavy bloodshed,
particularly the killing and injuring of civilians on both sides and
the potential for further casualties unless the situation is
Ban called for an immediate cessation of Palestinian attacks into
Israel, and for maximum restraint on the part of the IDF.
Shmulik Hadad, Ali Waked, Roni Sofer, Tova Daddon, Yitzhak Benhorin and
news agencies contributed to this report