TEL AVIV – The only way to stop the regular rocket fire on Sderot, an Israeli city of about 20,000 nearly three miles from the Gaza Strip border, is for the Jewish state to evacuate the entire city, Hamas announced in a statement today.

“Only the departure of residents from Sderot will stop the rocket fire,” Abu Abaida, spokesman for Hamas’ so-called military wing, said in a statement to reporters.

“There are no limits on our rocket attacks and we will prove that in coming days. We advise residents of Sderot to evacuate,” the Hamas spokesman said.

Asked by WND if his statement was rhetoric or whether the Hamas leadership actually sanctioned a call for Israeli residents to evacuate, Abu Abaida replied, “We are very, very serious. The evacuation can be done in the next days or even up to several weeks, but it must be done. And after that, we will stop all rocket fire unless the Zionists continue more military operations in Gaza”

Abu Abaida said Hamas is seeking to impose “a new equation in which the Zionists understand that for every incursion into Gaza, we will use our rockets to bombard your towns and cities until more and more are forced to evacuate. Our rockets have already improved, as Sderot residents know. We keep working on (the rockets) to improve deadliness, force and distance.”

Indeed, Israeli security sources said Palestinian rockets fired in recent weeks at Sderot have been packed with more explosive material than ever before.

Israel had promised not to tolerate ‘a single rocket attack’

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza last summer, hundreds of rockets have slammed into Sderot and other nearby Jewish communities fired by Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip.

Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose administration carried out the Gaza withdrawal, promised the Israeli public the Jewish state would “not tolerate a single rocket attack on Israel after the disengagement goes through.”

Sharon said if Israel needed to invade Gaza, the international community would understand.

Today, Yaakov Yaakobov, a Sderot resident and factory worker, suffered serious injuries in a rocket attack that scored a direct hit in the building in which he was working. He later died of his wounds.

Yaakabov’s wife, speaking to reporters in a hospital waiting room, said her two sons had not attended school in weeks because they have been afraid of rocket attacks. She called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to “wake up, because Sderot is crying.”

Last weekend, hundreds of Israeli youth were evacuated from Sderot for a “weekend reprieve” in the southern resort town of Eilat. The brief respite from rocket attacks was paid for by an Israeli billionaire.

Rocket attacks last week killed one Sderot woman and sheered the legs off an off-duty guard for Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz who resides in the town.

According to a report yesterday on the popular Ynet Israeli news website, upwards of 50 percent of Sderot’s students have been skipping school the last few months, as the rocket attacks have intensified.

At a town meeting of Sderot teachers yesterday, the city’s educators said many students are suffering from anxiety and have had difficulty preparing for exams.

“The situation is very problematic. We can hardly hold classes here,” said Miri Sassi, head of the Sderot municipality education department.

“When there are [rocket] attacks, the students are sometimes forced to study in the hallways, several classes at a time. This certainly isn’t a normal situation,” Sassi said.

Several reports today documented Sderot’s main shopping center, usually bustling with customers, was nearly deserted.

Haim Baranes, the owner of an insurance business located in the Sderot shopping center, told reporters, “For a month and a half now, since they begin firing the improved Qassams at us, since the injuries and casualties here, people are afraid. I myself am under stress, most of my friends and the people my age have left the city.”

Olmert ‘retraining’ Israeli military in Gaza

The Israeli Defense Forces largely has responded to the regular rocket onslaught with artillery fire aimed at rocket launch sites in Gaza and occasional surgical air strikes at rocket launchers.

The IDF the past few months also has carried out pinpoint ground raids of select Gaza areas but largely has failed to stop or even slow the Qassam rocket attacks.

According to senior military officials speaking to WND last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected military plans outlined to him for a large-scale assault in the Gaza Strip that would include reoccupation of parts of the territory.

The officials said according to IDF assessments, the best options to stop the daily rocket fire from Gaza into nearby Jewish communities and to halt the regular smuggling of weapons from neighboring Egypt include drafted plans to retake parts of Gaza.

They said other options presented to the Israeli government for a large-scale Gaza assault focusing on dismantling the terror infrastructure inside the Gaza Strip have also been rejected by Olmert in favor of surgical strikes.

The officials charged Olmert has been restraining the IDF from carrying out what the army believes are operations “crucial” for Israel’s security.

“Occupation of the northern Gaza Strip will inhibit a lot of rocket fire, but we know we would need to retake most of the central and northern Strip to completely stop the fire,” an IDF source said.

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