Two Israeli ministers demand tougher, sustained military crackdown to halt Palestinian missile offensive
Sunday, March 2, 40 Palestinian missiles crashed into Sderot and its environs, Five Katyusha rockets were fired from Gaza, four exploding Ashkelon and one in Netivot, the third Israeli town targeted from Gaza. Damage from direct hits to homes was extensive, six people were injured and several civilians suffered from shock.
Four soldiers were injured in combat in Gaza. Ninety Palestinian suspects detained.
One of four Katyushas fired at Ashkelon exploded next door to the home of internal security minister Avi Dichter, hours after he criticized the current Israeli military operation in Gaza for failing to stop the Palestinian missile-rocket blitz on Israeli towns and villages. Just the opposite, he complained to the weekly cabinet meeting: Instead of 125,000 Israeli civilians under fire, there are now 250,000.
The minister, a former Shit Bet director, stressed their must be no let-up in operations against terrorists; Palestinian civilians shielding them are themselves terrorists, he said.
Three houses on Dichter’s street in Ashkelon were heavily damaged, a woman was injured and three people went into shock. Israeli military intelligence chief revealed that 90 of the 108 Palestinians killed in Gaza in the last two days were combatants.
The internal security minister, transport minister, Shaul Mofaz added his voice to the demand to crack down in earnest on Hamas and destroy their ability to terrorize Israeli civilians once and for all, however long it takes. No other country would submit to hundreds of thousands of its citizens living under constant cross-border missile attack.
Prime minister Ehud Olmert pledged not to stop Israel’s Gaza assault until the Palestinians halted their missile offensive, but peace talks would go on. He was instantly rebuffed by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who formally suspended all contacts with Israel. Replying to the UN condemnation of Israel’s attacks as “disproportionate and excessive”, Olmert said: “No one has the right to preach to Israel for exercising its right to self-defense.”
debkafile‘s military sources report that Minister Dichter was speaking for the frustrated Israeli commanders conducting the Gaza anti-missile campaign against Hamas. The government is still restricting Israel’s military incursion of the Gaza Strip to 2.5-3 km deep, whereas Palestinian crews are firing missiles and rockets from the relatively safe distance of 6 to 15 km inside the Strip. That is why, Dichter argued, the operation is falling short of its goals, which defense minister Ehud Barak defined to the ministers as halting Palestinian missile fire and cutting down their arms smuggling.
Also Sunday, Palestinian mortar fire was again directed at Israeli convoys heading through the Sufa crossing with meat, wheat and other food for Gaza’s population. The trucks turned back and several hours later got through.