Israel Calls Rocket Attacks a 'Tangible Threat'

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility on Monday for firing the rocket that slammed into a home near a kindergarten in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. The attack damaged property and left several people in shock.

Some 15 rockets were launched at Israel over the weekend, including one that injured two people when it struck a gas station near the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

Israel has not yet responded militarily but Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his country would not hold back forever.

"The Kassam attacks constitute a tangible threat to Israel," Olmert said on Monday. "Israel cannot show restraint forever."

Olmert told visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that Israel would "respond severely" to continued rocket fire that threatens civilians living in southern Israel.

According to the army, Palestinian terrorists have launched 270 rockets at southern Israeli communities (including the weekend salvos) since a ceasefire was declared on November 26. Palestinians also have also planted more than 50 explosive devices at the security fence surrounding Gaza during that time.

Unnamed military officials reportedly have promised a harsh response to the rocket fire. But they also said it's unlikely that Israel would launch a full-scale invasion into the Gaza Strip at this time.

Some experts believe that the only way to stop the rocket fire is by launching a major ground offensive to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisen said that Israel would choose the time and place to respond but would not be able to stop the rocket fire entirely. The rocket firing needs to be subdued by the Palestinians themselves, Eisen said by telephone.

In a document sent to both Israel and the Palestinians, the Bush administration reportedly has asked the Palestinians to stop the rocket-firing and weapons smuggling be stopped. Israel's been asked to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Israel already has said it will not be able to implement some of the so-called "confidence-building measures" for security reasons.

Both Hamas and the militant Palestinian Resistance Committees (PRC) rejected the document over the weekend. The PRC vowed to bring about the failure of the Bush administration's latest plan.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, speaking in the Syrian capital, officially declared Hamas' rejection of the document - or "any American, European, Israeli or even Arab project that diminishes the Palestinian cause like this."

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Baroum, was quoted as saying that his group would work to bring about the failure of the plan "by any means and by all means."

Saeb Erekat, senior advisor to P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, said last week that it didn't matter what Hamas or anyone else said because Hamas would have to abide by any deal worked out by Abbas, who is the elected leader of the P.A.

(The Bush administration is supporting Abbas as a moderate.)

Media photos showed P.A. security forces loyal to Abbas pouring concrete down a tunnel that they had found. But Dr. Aaron Lerner of the Independent Media Review and Analysis said the action was nothing more than a photo op intended to prove that the Palestinians are meeting U.S. benchmarks.

Lerner suggested in a written analysis that the U.S. benchmarks should be revised so that instead of staging photo-ops, the P.A. would be required to destroy "a specific list of hard targets," including training camps and specifically identified fortifications; and to close down rocket factories and confiscate rockets, weapons and explosives for removal and destruction.

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