For the first time since the ceasefire
declared in November 2006, the Israel Defense Forces struck a target in the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday afternoon.
According to the army, the target was a Qassam launching cell comprised of three terrorists, who were apparently hit before launching the rockets toward Israel.
Palestinians reported that at least four people were injured in the attack, one of them sustaining critical wounds, and that they were all civilians.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Wednesday evening, "IDF forces hit the launching cell which was about to fire another missile, one of those Qassam missiles which land on the State of Israel's sovereign territory.
"We have decided to adopt a restraint policy, but we have to make it unequivocally clear that we will not compromise under any circumstances in terms of our commitment to defend the State of Israel. I am a man of peace, but as far as I am concerned, terror is the main enemy," he added.
Earlier Wednesday, at least seven Qassam rockets were fired at the western Negev. The seventh rocket landed near Sderot just before noon. The Color Red alert system was activated in the southern town and an explosion was heard in the area.
Six rockets landed in open areas south of Ashkelon. There were no reports of injuries, but agricultural products were damaged.
One of the Qassams fell near a strategic facility in the Ashkelon industrial area south of the city.
The al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad's military wing, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. A senior official in the organization told Ynet that the Qassam fire was in response to the Arab summit in Riyadh.
The organization did not accept the initiative, which does not acknowledge the right of return for Palestinians.
Since the ceasefire came into force, the IDF has refrained from responding to the ongoing rocket fire, even after spotting cells. Some 185 rockets have been fired since then, 152 of them landing on Israeli territory.
Military sources, backed by Defense Minister Amir Peretz,
demanded that the army respond to the attacks, but the restraint policy continued following a decision made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
A senior defense source recently made it clear that "talking is over" and that from then on the IDF would respond firmly to any terror incident from the Gaza Strip. Wednesday's strike, according to military sources, could signal a change in the policy, which will be expressed in more and more initiated targeted killings in the Strip.
The IDF, however, officially clarified that there was no change in its policy of opening fire, saying that soldiers were allowed to hit rocket launching cells before they fired Qassams or immediately afterwards.
In the meantime, officials said, there was no plan "to stop playing by the rules," and the targeted killing policy would not be resumed.
Ali Waked contributed to the report