Driving home fears Palestinian terror groups will use land gained by Israel’s Gaza evacuation to launch rockets deeper inside the Jewish state, two Qassams today were fired at western Negev towns as Israeli troops prepared the Gaza Strip for handover in the next few weeks.
One rocket hit the populated Negev town of Sderot, about 10 miles outside Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of former Jewish communities. Another landed in an open field just outside Sderot. The Popular Resistance Committees terror group in Gaza – made up of Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants – claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Israeli Defense Forces so far has not responded to the attack, prompting Sderot’s mayor to file a complaint with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office. Mayor Eli Moyal said Sharon previously warned rockets fired into the western Negev after Israel’s Gaza evacuation would be met with a stern response.
Knesset Member Eli Yishai today told Israel National News the rockets fired at Sderot were just an “appetizer” for what is yet to come.
“Even before we have turned off the engines of uprooting and expulsion, our fears have proven true. The dream of an end to the season of Qassams has been shattered,” Yishai said.
Yishai called on Sharon to delay the Gaza handover to the Palestinian Authority until PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas commits publicly to stopping the firing of rockets on Israeli towns.
Israel today continued preparations for its military withdrawal from the area, bulldozing houses of former Jewish Gaza residents and announcing it will evacuate a Jewish graveyard starting Sunday. The army has stated it will likely depart from the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks.
Today’s rocket attack coincides with a recent Hamas announcement the terror group will begin the next phase of its war to destroy the Jewish state by launching Qassam rockets further inside Israel instead of focusing on suicide bombings.
As WND reported, Hamas last month announced on its website: “Afula, Hadera, Beit She’an, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities will all fall within the range of the Qassam rocket. … The implication is that this rocket, which was previously looked upon with disdain by many, will serve as the weapon of choice in the coming period of time, as the acts of suicide martyrdom served as the weapon of choice during all the previous years.”
The site continued: “From a technical standpoint, the Zionist army presently does not have any means to intercept an airborne Qassam rocket. The only possibility, therefore, of stopping the fire, if possible, is to strike the operating cells or the rockets themselves, a moment before they are launched.
“A pre-emptive strike against the attacking cell is a complicated and almost impossible affair. According to the assessments of the Zionist army, the members of the resistance bring the missiles in vans and unload them under the cover of agricultural activity. This makes them more difficult to expose. Furthermore, the time frame available to the Zionist forces is a quarter of an hour at the most. It takes that long for the resistance members to aim the rockets and activate them at a distance using an electronic timer. To foil the action, the army needs to keep combat helicopters in the air for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is, therefore, highly bothersome.”
The Hamas site went on to explain that to fire on Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, the terror group doesn’t need to improve the range of the current Qassam rocket it uses.
“Jerusalem and other cities will all fall within the range of the Qassam 1 rocket, and there will not even be need for the Qassam 2 rocket.”
Israeli retaliatory raids will not establish deterrence against missile launchings, Hamas stated.
“The only solution, as far as the Zionist establishment is concerned, is severe retaliation for every Qassam rocket launched, in order to teach the Palestinians a lesson and make them think a thousand times before launching any kind of rocket. [But] have all the previous mass murders and the acts of hostility carried out as collective punishment quenched the fire of resistance, or, rather, have they served as a catalyst for the increasing sophistication of the creative methods of the resistance [factions]?”
Israeli security sources say Hamas has been using time gained from a cease-fire agreement signed in February by Abbas and Sharon to stockpile weapons and extend its Qassam manufacturing capabilities to Judea and Samaria.
In March, the Israeli Defense Forces destroyed a large Qassam laboratory in the Samarian village of Al-Yamoun. Earlier, the army arrested 11 members of a Hamas cell in Samaria who admitted during interrogation to producing Qassam rockets and constructing a laboratory for the manufacturing of heavy explosives.
Qassams are relatively unsophisticated steel rockets, about four feet in length, filled with explosives and fuel. The rockets lack a guidance system and are launched in nearby towns by terrorists who reportedly use the rocket’s trajectory and known travel distance to aim at a particular Jewish community.
About 20 percent of Qassams do not explode upon impact.
“As far as rockets go, they may be low-tech, but if they land in a population center, they’re incredibly deadly,” Ami Shaked, chief security coordinator for Gaza’s Jewish communities, told WND.
Of particular concern for the Israeli Defense Forces is the development of longer-range Qassam missiles that could strike Jerusalem if launched from certain West Bank areas.
In August 2003, a Qassam traveled 5 miles from the Gaza Strip into Israel and landed near Ashkelon, the farthest a Qassam rocket has penetrated.
Hamas also recently started manufacturing a new rocket, the Nasser 3, capable of reaching farther than even the updated Qassam, security sources said.