by Gadi Golan, Lilach Shoval, Itsik Saban and Shlomi Diaz
Some 60 rockets, including Grads, launched at western Negev since Monday night • Rocket attack injures four Border Policemen • Israel kills al-Qaida operative who took part in Monday's cross-border attack.
As of press time on Wednesday afternoon, some 60 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel since late Monday night. In one rocket attack near the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council on Tuesday night, one Border Policeman sustained moderate shrapnel injuries and three others were injured lightly. IAF warplanes attacked seven terror targets in Gaza over the past two days in response to the rocket fire.
The surge in fighting came despite renewed mediation by Egypt having secured agreement by Israel and Palestinian factions on Tuesday night, an Egyptian official told Reuters. A Palestinian source accused the Israelis of violating the deal. Israel neither confirmed nor denied there was such deal, and the military said in a statement it would "continue to operate with perseverance and determination against those who use terror against the State of Israel," Reuters reported. Although neither side seems interesting in seeing the violence spiral into all-out war, clashes could easily escalate if casualties multiply.
Early Wednesday afternoon the IDF killed an al-Qaida operative in an air strike in the southern Gaza Strip in a joint Israel Security Agency [Shabak] and IDF operation. The IDF said the operative was involved in Monday's al-Qaida attack over the Egyptian border. AFP said the man was the seventh Palestinian casualty in three days of fighting with Israel.
The rocket attacks continued on Wednesday with no injuries but some damage to property reported. Residents of the south have been periodically forced into bomb shelters, but most schools are operating. Four Iron-Dome anti-rocket batteries have been made operational in the area, and for the first time, one of them is protecting the city of Netivot, Army Radio reported. There have been no Iron Dome rocket interceptions in the fighting so far.
Hamas claimed responsibility for some of the attacks, saying it fired rockets only at military targets.
Senior IDF Southern Command officers held meetings throughout the day to assess the situation, with Army Radio reporting that the IDF was caught between not wanting to escalate on the one hand, but not wanting to appear weak in the face of Hamas' renewed terror. Defense Ministry officials said Israel cannot allow the rocket attacks to continue without a response. Defense Minister Ehud Barak held a meeting on Tuesday with senior IDF commanders and intelligence officials and a statement from his office said "different responses are being weighed."
Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino has instructed all units to be on alert for more rocket fire in the south in the coming days with the possibility that rockets could reach larger cities further out as well.
Yael Talker, a mother of two residing in Kibbutz Re'im in the Eshkol Regional Council area, sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday saying, "We live in terrible fear of the next rocket that may land on one of the houses here. Unfortunately we do not have a shelter and if people in the area have a prayer or request or hope, it is that we won't die here in an attack."Gadi Golan, Lilach Shoval, Itsik Saban and Shlomi Diaz
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