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Rocket lands feet from defense minister's home

JERUSALEM – A Qassam rocket fired today from the Gaza Strip landed just a few hundred feet from the home of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, prompting calls from some politicians here for the Israeli army to reoccupy parts of Gaza.

The missile volley came one day after the Israeli Defense Forces carried out an anti-rocket operation deep inside Gaza – reportedly the first such operation since Israel evacuated the territory nine months ago. Defense officials said more ground operations in Gaza will likely follow.

Critics of Israel’s Gaza withdrawal had warned the retreat would prompt an onslaught of terrorism requiring the IDF to re-enter the territory. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is planning a second withdrawal from most of Judea and Samaria, mountainous terrain within rocket firing range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the country’s international airport.

The Islamic Jihad terrorist group took responsibility for firing four Qassam rockets today, one of which struck a house close to Peretz’s home in Sderot, an Israeli Negev desert community about five miles from the Gaza border.

Shortly after today’s rocket attack, Peretz visited the neighbor whose home was struck. The Qassam missile reportedly hit part of the homeowner’s roof and then landed in the backyard. The house was moderately damaged, but no one was harmed in the attack.

“I wanted to go to the security cabinet meeting in Jerusalem and 10 minutes before I woke up, I heard a loud explosion,” said Peretz, who started his political carrier as mayor of Sderot.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a Qassam rocket falls near my house,” he said.

Peretz’s neighbor, Moti Ashkenazi, said it was a “miracle” no one was injured in the attack.

“Luckily the rocket struck the concrete part of the roof, which slowed it down a bit,” said Ashkenazi.

“I heard a blast and flew off the bed; part of the ceiling landed on me. A big miracle took place here because shrapnel from the rocket hit the gas tanks inside the house. I am still trying to fathom what happened to us this morning.”

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza more than 400 Qassam rockets have been fired at adjacent Jewish communities. More than 10 rockets were fired in the last week alone.

Qassam are improvised steel rockets, about four feet in length, filled with explosives and fuel. They can travel between one and five miles depending on the sophistication of the particular rocket. 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.

Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal yesterday harshly criticized the Israeli government’s response thus far to the rocket attacks, which have struck at his town many times the past few months.

“Our luck is that the Palestinians don’t know how to aim precisely,” Moyal told Israel Radio. “There are only two ways to stop this – either destroying the area where they fire the rockets from or controlling that area.”

The Israeli army largely has attempted to halt Qassam rocket fire mostly utilizing artillery units and aerial strikes against suspected launching sites, but the operations have failed to stop or even slow the rate of Palestinian rocket attacks.

Yesterday, a special IDF unit entered deep inside the Gaza Strip and set up an ambush within the ruins of Dagit, a coastal town that previously was part of Gush Katif, the slate of Gaza’s Jewish communities Israel evacuated last August. The town has been regularly used the past few months by terrorists to fire Qassam missiles.

When an Islamic Jihad Qassam missile crew arrived, reportedly intending to fire rockets, the IDF forces opened fire. The troops, backed by an IAF helicopter gunship and a naval unit, killed four Jihad members. After a fierce gun battle with nearby militants who joined in the clashes, the IDF unit exited Gaza without any casualties.

Military officials described the Gaza operation as “high risk” and “well orchestrated.” It was the deepest the IDF has operated in Gaza since the August withdrawal. Soldiers on two occasions the past few months entered Gaza but only a few feet deep to search for explosives along a border fence.

Peretz vowed operations against Qassam launch cells in Gaza would continue by air, sea and, if needed, with ground operations in order to prevent further rocket fire.

For many, the reports of troops entering Gaza actualize warnings repeatedly voiced by opponents of the Gaza withdrawal plan prior to its implementation.

Some military leaders, including former Gaza commanders and a former Israeli defense minister, have been calling on Israel in recent weeks to reoccupy parts of Gaza to halt terror operations and the regular Qassam firings.

As WND recently reported, Israeli troops last month quietly trained for a large-scale incursion and occupation of Gaza in the event it is deemed necessary.

In an interview with Israel’s Maariv daily, IDF Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, who leads the unit responsible for the Gaza area, said the army could reoccupy Gaza.

“If the price we have to pay becomes unreasonable as a result of increased [Palestinian] attacks, then we shall have to take all steps, including occupying the Gaza Strip,” he said.

While Israeli officials contemplate Gaza operations, Olmert is attempting to push through a large-scale evacuation of most of Judea and Samaria, territory commonly referred to as the West Bank.

About 200,000 Jews live in Judea and Samaria. A separation barrier, still under construction in certain areas, cordons off nearly 95 percent of the territory from Israel’s pre-1967 borders. More than half Judea and Samaria’s Jewish residents reside on the side of the fence closest to Israel. About 80,000 more Jews live on the other side of the barrier. Olmert officials have stated the past few weeks the new prime minister plans to enforce a withdrawal from all 68 Jewish towns that fall outside the barrier.

In a widely circulated WND article, leaders of every major Palestinian terror organization warned they will soon launch a massive violent campaign against Israel focused mainly on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.

One senior terrorist said now that Olmert announced a Judea and Samaria withdrawal, terrorism against Israel must be stepped up “to prove we are chasing out the Israelis like we did in Gaza.”

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