'Prepare to operate in Gaza'
Four Sderot resident suffer shock as rockets continue to fall on southern town; Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz tells senior security establishment officials to begin preparations for wide-scale offensive in Gaza; earlier, six Hamas terrorists killed in Air Force missile strikes in territories
SDEROT – Despite Israel Air Forces strikes on Hamas weapons factories in the Gaza Strip, the Qassam rockets continue to fall on the Negev town of Sderot.
Saturday morning, one Qassam landed in the courtyard of a home in the Rakefet neighborhood. As a result, four residents suffered from shock and had to evacuated to Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center.
During the early morning hours, other rockets were fired at Sderot but landed in open fields.
Following the renewal of Israel's targeted killings policy Friday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered the IDF to prepare for a wide-scale ground offensive in Gaza.
However, he instructed senior IDF officials to wait until a final decision on the matter has been reached.
Following a meeting with senior security officials in Tel Aviv, Mofaz instructed the IDF to launch a series of operations against terror organizations; proceed with the closing off of the Gaza Strip, and keep an eye out for developments within the Palestinian Authority.
Earlier Friday, at least two Hamas terrorists were killed in an Air Force missile strike near the West Bank town of Salfit, near Ariel, Friday afternoon.
Army gunships reportedly fired at least six missiles at a mountainous area in the northern West Bank described by Palestinian sources as an occasional hiding spot used by terror suspects of various groups.
Following the initial missile barrage, helicopters directed automatic fire at the targets of the attack.
The killed terrorists have been identified as Rabia Kharbawi, Sami Fahami, and Raafat Ayash. All three are members of the Hamas’ Izz-al-Din-al-Qassam Brigades.
Meanwhile, the Air Force targeted an explosive-laden Gaza vehicle it said was carrying four senior Hamas terrorists en route to launching Qassam rockets at Israeli communities. Four Palestinians were killed in the strike, including Aadel Haniya, the nephew of senior Hamas figure Ismail Haniya.
Three workshops destroyed
The United Nations issued a statement condemning the targeted attacks, calling for Israel to demonstrate the same restraint it had shown over the past few months. It also said that while the PA is operating within the law, Israel must refrain from taking steps which would result in an escalation of violence.
Meanwhile, Palestinians continued to fire mortar shell bombs at southern Gaza Strip settlements Friday, lightly injuring a 4-year-old child and 18-year-old woman.
In addition, Qassam rockets were fired on the southern town of Sderot. No injuries were reported. The military wing of the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility.
In a statement later released, the group said the attack was in response to Israel’s latest assassination of seven Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The IAF later destroyed three workshops in Gaza and Khan Younis. IDF officials said the structures belonged to Hamas and were used for producing weapons for the group, including Qassam rockets, mortar shell bombs and anti-tank missiles.
Gaza operation considered
Notably, IDF officials have singled out Hamas as the terror group responsible for recent rocket and mortar shell barrages in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has scheduled a special session for Friday evening to discuss the escalation in Gaza violence with Army Chief Dan Halutz and other senior security officials.
During the session, officials were expected to consider the possibility of launching a military operation in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking on Friday afternoon, Halutz said the Hamas was no longer abiding by the rules of the fragile lull, which he said was slipping away.
Early Friday the IDF began moving armored vehicles to a gathering point in the south, and soldiers from various units were also summoned to the area.
- Hanan Greenberg and Shmulik Haddad contributed to the report