TEL AVIV – Two Israeli civilians today were wounded – one seriously – after the Hamas terror group fired a barrage of rockets from the Gaza Strip into nearby Jewish communities, but Israel’s response has been restricted by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert since no Israeli citizens were killed.

WND has learned the Israel Defense Forces in recent days petitioned Olmert’s security cabinet to allow the military to respond more forcefully to Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, but at a meeting Sunday, Olmert’s government postponed a decision to approve a broader anti-rocket offensive.

According to sources close to the cabinet meeting, Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz were reluctant to order stepped-up attacks, explaining no Israelis were killed recently by Palestinian rocket fire.

Today’s rocket attacks seriously wounded a 44-year-old woman and lightly injured her 4-year-old son in Sderot, an Israeli town of about 25,000 located about three miles from the Gaza border. Rockets also slammed into a Sderot schoolyard, which was empty at the time of the attack.

Hamas said in a statement it fired the rockets to commemorate the Al-Nakba Palestinian day of mourning, on which Palestinians commemorate what they call the catastrophe of Israel’s creation.

Hamas also said the rocket attacks were meant to divert attention from deadly Palestinian infighting in Gaza the past few days. The terror group warned it would launch more rockets into Israel in the near future.

The IDF has been significantly restrained from countering rocket attacks since the Jewish state agreed to a truce in November with Gaza militants in which Israel vowed to suspend anti-terror operations in exchange for quiet. Since then, more than 380 rockets have been fired from Gaza, but the IDF largely has ceased from operating in the territory.

At a security cabinet meeting Sunday, top IDF leaders petitioned Olmert for more freedom in countering Gaza rocket fire. Current rules of engagement allow the army to take out rocket crews only by artillery fire and only if the crews are seen preparing to launch an imminent attack. The military asked for permission to enter Gaza in pursuit of rocket crews or to destroy rocket factories and explosives infrastructure; to carry out specific offensive measures during periods of heightened intelligence of planned attacks; to counter rampant smuggling into Gaza from the neighboring Sinai desert; and to carry out targeted assassinations of top commanders of terror rocket crews.

Olmert eventually stated he would allow the possible broadening of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip as long as these were in keeping with the current policies. The only major change approved was the IDF can target rocket crews in specific cases before they set up projectiles for launch.

Olmert said any change of IDF operations must be approved directly by the prime minister or Peretz. Olmert asked for another list of IDF requests and postponed until next week any further decisions regarding the nature of the IDF’s approved activities in Gaza.

“It was a non-decision,” said a top military leader. “The cabinet isn’t allowing us to do anything much different.”

According to a source close to the meeting, both Olmert and Peretz expressed reservations about allowing any major offensive in Gaza, explaining no Jews recently have been killed by Palestinian rocket attacks.

Olmert rejected any large ground operation despite mounting evidence officials say indicates Hamas in Gaza is preparing for a large-scale conflict with Israel.

Military officials said there have been indications for months Hamas and other major Palestinian terror groups used the cease-fire to improve the range of their rockets, smuggle in mass quantities of weapons, construct underground bunkers and build guerrilla-like armies.

“The longer we wait to deal with the Gaza threat, the more costly an operation in Gaza will be,” a top military source said. “Hamas has been preparing for confrontations.”

Last month, Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s General Security Services, warned the Knesset that Hamas was sending hundreds of Gaza-based militants to Iran for prolonged periods of advanced training. He announced smuggling of weaponry into Gaza from the neighboring Egyptian Sinai desert recently increased six-fold and that Palestinian terrorist groups were taking advantage of the cease-fire to enhance rockets and create a complex system of underground bunkers.

He said Palestinian advances during the cease-fire period would make it more difficult for the IDF to confront Gaza’s terror infrastructure.

Earlier, Yoav Galant, chief of the IDF’s Gaza-area division, told reporters the Gaza truce enabled Hamas to grow from a ragtag terror group into a well-organized militia resembling an army – complete with battalions, companies, platoons, special forces for surveillance, snipers and explosive experts.

Galant compared Hamas to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia which last summer engaged in 33 days of confrontations with the IDF, bombarding northern Israeli population centers with thousands of rockets.

Terror leaders admit copying Hezbollah

Three weeks after the November truce was forged, Palestinian terror leaders, including militants from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization, explained to WND they would use the cease-fire to create Hezbollah-like armies in the Gaza Strip.

“We are turning Gaza into south Lebanon,” Abu Ahmed, northern Gaza leader for the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group told WND, referring to the area in Lebanon in which Hezbollah built military bases and a large rocket infrastructure.

“We learned from Hezbollah’s victory that Israel can be defeated if we know how to hit them and if we are well prepared,” Abu Ahmed said. “We are importing rockets and the knowledge to launch them, and we are also making many plans for battle.”

The Brigades, the declared military wing of Abbas’ Fatah party, took responsibility along with the Islamic Jihad terror group, for every suicide bombing in Israel the past two years.

Hamas’ Abu Abdullah told WND in December his group is preparing for war against Israel.

“In the last 15 months, even though the fighters of Hamas kept the cease-fire, we did not stop making important advancements and professional training on the military level. In the future, after Hamas is obliged to stop the cease-fire, the world shall see our new military capabilities,” said Abu Abdullah, considered one of the most important operational members of Hamas’ Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ declared “resistance” department.

Al Aqsa’s Abu Ahmed said his group is receiving help from Hezbollah to import long-range rockets and train in guerrilla warfare tactics.

“We have warm relations with Hezbollah, which helps with some of the training programs,” Abu Ahmed said. “We don’t have anything to be ashamed of – that we are dealing with Hezbollah and that we are receiving training and information from them.”

He said Hezbollah maintains cells in the Sinai.

“The Sinai is an excellent ground for training, the exchange of information and weapons and for meetings on how to turn every piece of land into usable territory for a confrontation with Israel,” Abu Ahmed said.

Palestinians establishing Gaza war bunkers

Abu Ahmed said Palestinian groups are developing war bunkers inside Gaza similar to the underground Hezbollah lairs Israel found during the war in Lebanon.

“Our preparations include the building of special bunkers. Of course, we are taking into consideration that Gaza is not the same topography as Lebanon,” Abu Ahmed said in December.

During its confrontation with Hezbollah, Israel destroyed scores of complex bunkers that snaked along the Lebanese side of the Israel-Lebanon border. Military officials said they were surprised by the scale of the Hezbollah bunkers, in which Israeli troops reportedly found war rooms stocked with advanced eavesdropping and surveillance equipment they noted were made by Iran.

Abu Ahmed said the most important “tool” in the Palestinian resistance arsenal was rockets. He said his group learned from Hezbollah that Israel can be defeated with missiles.

“We saw that with the capacity to bombard the Israeli population with hundreds of rockets every day we can change the strategic balance with Israel,” he said.

WND reported exclusively last month Palestinian terror groups in Gaza claim they manufactured improved rockets that can travel deeper into the Jewish state, placing hundreds of thousands more Israelis within firing range of the Gaza Strip.

Abu Muhammad, a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad terror group, which has been responsible for recent rocket fire, vowed his organization would continue launching rockets deeper into the Jewish state.

He told WND Israel would be “very surprised and astonished soon by our rocket capacities. We will not abide by any cease-fire.”

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