GAZA - Palestinian terrorists fired some two dozen mortar shells on Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. However, there have been no reported injuries.
Earlier in the day, an IDF drone fired a missile at two Palestinians about to launch a mortar shell, critically wounding a Hamas terrorist.
It was the first such attack since Palestinian and Israeli leaders declared a cease-fire in February aimed at ending four years of violence.
David Baker, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told Ynetnews that Israel had asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest the group responsible but it refused.
"This incident is vivid proof that the Palestinians are totally refusing to take the necessary steps to stop terror against Israel," Baker said. "Israel has made it abundantly clear that if the Palestinian Authority persists in its current path and refuses to take any steps against terror, Israel will do everything necessary to do so."
The IDF launched the strike after soldiers spotted Palestinians in the town of Khan Younis attempting to launch mortar shells at the nearby settlements of Morag and Neve Dekalim - the latest in a series of increasing attacks by gunmen.
The incident marked the first Israeli air strike in Gaza since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had declared a cease-fire in February.
Abbas also secured a de facto truce with terrorists in March in an effort to maintain a lull in fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. But armed groups had threatened in recent weeks to resume violence after several IDF shooting incidents that led to Palestinian deaths.
Following the Israeli air strike, PA security personnel tried to keep Hamas terrorists from firing rockets only to come under fire themselves. In central Gaza, Hamas members opened fire on a Palestinian National Security outpost in the Gaza Strip, wounding one officer.
Terrorists in Gaza have recently increased their rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli targets, both military in civilian. The army had demanded in recent weeks that the Palestinian Authority dispatch security officers to the area to stop the gunmen, but without avail.
The army has refrained from using aircraft to target Palestinian terrorists in recent months, but military officials warned the IDF would be forced to act should the PA not take action against mortar launchers.
"What do you expect us to do if they are attacking us?" Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon, told the Associated Press.
Israel plans to dismantle all 21 Jewish settlements from Gaza this summer as well as four of 120 in the West Bank, while strengthening existing West Bank settlement blocs. Palestinian gunmen in Gaza want to portray any Israeli withdrawal as a victory.
Israel has been reluctant to promise any sure coordination on the plan, its first pullout from land Palestinians want for a state, and has resisted calls to resume peace talks until the Palestinians take tougher
action against terrorists.
- The Associated Press contributed to this report