GUSH KATIF BLOCK, Gaza – Israel’s military, at the direction of the prime minister’s office, has been deliberately failing to stop Palestinian militants from firing mortars and rockets into Gaza’s Jewish neighborhoods so residents will want to leave when this summer’s Gaza withdrawal plan is implemented, Israeli lawmakers and settlement residents and leaders told WND.
Katif resident displays Qassam rocket that fell in her backyard. Photo: WND.
Hamas has been launching almost daily rocket and mortar attacks against the Jewish communities in Gaza slated for evacuation under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal plan. The terror group this week fired over 10 mortars and three Qassams at several Gaza Jewish neighborhoods, and last month perpetrated over 50 mortar and rocket attacks.
The Israeli Defense Forces yesterday responded to mortar fire by striking a truck filled with rocket launchers. The retaliation followed the death a day earlier of two workers in a Jewish Gaza greenhouse that was hit by a Hamas Qassam rocket.
But rocket attacks here have rarely prompted an Israeli response, with IDF officials routinely citing a cease-fire agreement signed by Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmaud Abbas as restricting their ability to conduct military operations within the Gaza Strip.
There have been over 300 attacks since February and about a dozen Israeli responses.
An IDF spokeswoman told WND yesterday the army is doing everything in its power to stop the regular barrage of mortars and Qassams, but residents and settler leaders here will almost unanimously disagree.
“It’s obvious they are not doing a thing,” said Debbie Rosen, a spokeswoman for Gush Katif, the largest block of Gaza Jewish communities slated for evacuation. “Everyone here is very upset about it.”
Brig. Gen. Effie Eitam, a Knesset member who recently moved to Gush Katif, told WND: “The IDF knows who is launching the mortars, from where exactly and when. They have been instructed by the political echelon, by Sharon, to do nothing about the attacks. The goal is to make life as bad as possible so people will want to leave and not spoil the disengagement process. We see the military is indeed actually doing nothing. They are just watching the mortars and Qassams fall.”
Eitam, who served in Sharon’s Cabinet as housing minister until he resigned last year in protest of the Gaza evacuation, said the IDF is occasionally pressured into responding to Hamas attacks.
“This week, two people were killed by rockets. Suddenly we see an IDF anti-rocket operation,” he said.
Arab Druze Knesset member Ayoob Kara, an anti-disengagement lawmaker, agreed.
“The army is acting as a political arm,” Kara told WND. “The military leaders don’t all want to do this, but they are still going along with the same steps politically as Mr. Sharon tells them, to pave the way for Jewish residents [of Gaza] to want to leave. … They are not defending Gaza.”
Raanan Gissin, senior advisor to Sharon, denied the charges.
“I think all past experience indicates the IDF always takes necessary steps to defend the state of Israel,” Gissin said. “That’s why we have an army which makes assessments with the best way to provide security. There is no exception for the Gush Katif area and other areas in Gaza.”
As WND first reported, the IDF has a drone capable of quickly identifying and targeting Palestinian rocket launchers. Military officials warned they would use the pilotless aircraft to effectively eliminate the rocket threat.
“Use of this drone should send shivers down the spines of terrorists planning further attacks,” an Israeli official previously told WorldNetDaily. “Israel is using it to serve as a deterrent for further attacks. It provides us with constant intelligence in real time from afar, and enables us to respond immediately and forcefully.”
But residents are adamant the rocket attacks are being permitted and are meant to disrupt their lives.
Shlomo Wallins, a resident of Neve Dekalim, said, “We get announcements now sometimes a few times a day to go indoors because there may be mortars coming. There is an obvious attempt to make life difficult…There is no question the IDF can stop the attacks if they wanted.”
The Israeli army frequently warns residents on loudspeakers to seek shelter when they say they have intelligence of incoming mortars or rockets. The warnings this week were issued on average three times per day.
Ruth, a 68-year old immigrant from America who asked that her last name be withheld, said, “I don’t listen anymore. The army is letting the mortars come, but it can hit me in my house just as well as outside. I’m not letting it get to me.”
Analysts have warned the attacks will escalate as the Gaza withdrawal draws closer so Hamas can claim it has driven Israel from the area. Some worry after the Gaza evacuation Hamas will use the territory gained to stage rocket attacks deeper inside Israel.
Since February, the Palestinians have smuggled multiple rockets and five anti-aircraft missile batteries into Rafah from across the Egypt-Gaza border, reports Israel’s Center for Special Studies.
Hamas also recently started manufacturing a new rocket, the Nasser 3, capable of reaching further than the currently used Qassam 2 rockets, which, unlike the Nasser, have improvised fuses and warheads that don’t always explode on impact.
Former Tourism Minister Benny Elon of Israel’s National Union Party told WND: “There can be no doubt Israel is letting Hamas get away with the attacks. This is a policy now dictated by political decision makers. The message being sent loud and clear to residents of Gush Katif is to get out and don’t try to oppose the evacuation.”