Palestinian Rocket Fire Is 'Cause For War', Israel Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian rocket fire aimed at Israel is a 'cause for war,' an official in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office said on Tuesday.

Two weeks after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and dismantled all Jewish communities there, Israel dropped leaflets in the Gaza Strip, warning Palestinians to stay away from missile launch sites.

Overnight, the Israeli Air Force again targeted Palestinian positions in the Gaza Strip that are part of the infrastructure used by terror organizations.

Three access routes in the northern Gaza Strip were hit to prevent the passage of terrorists into areas from which Kassam rockets are launched into Israel, the army said.

A structure used by Palestinian Authority Chairman's Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction for "terror activity" and another structure used by Hamas as a "money-changing office" were also hit, the army said.

Over the weekend, some 40 rockets and mortar shells were launched at the Israeli city of Sderot and other communities outside the Gaza Strip, forcing residents to take cover in bomb shelters and security rooms.

In the West Bank, Israel uncovered an explosives laboratory with seven kilos (15 pounds) of explosive material and pipe bombs ready to go. Israel also arrested 15 Islamic Jihad terrorists in the West Bank, the army said.

Israel dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, warning residents to stay away from places from which rockets and mortars are being launched and telling them that the Israeli operations are not directed against the civilians but against the terror organizations, military sources said.

Israel has engaged in many military operations in the Gaza Strip during the last few years whenever there was a spike in terrorism or rocket fire, but Israeli officials said things are different now.

Sharon's spokesman, Dr. Ra'anan Gissin said that rocket attacks and infiltrations across the Gaza Strip border constitute a reason for war -- just as if such attacks were conducted across the border of any sovereign state.

Israel warned prior to its withdrawal from Gaza that it would strike back hard against any terror attacks once the pullout was complete.

If such attacks are being carried out without any provocation, Israel's response will be clear, said Gissin. "Our level of tolerance will be zero."

"New rules and a new reality will be set here." Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said while touring artillery positions near the Gaza Strip.

"If the children of Sderot are unable to sleep, Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders will not get a night's sleep either," Mofaz said. "We will strike again and again until they realize that as a sovereign state, Israel cannot allow for this threat to civilians to continue."

Mofaz said artillery has been placed close to the Gaza border, not just for decoration but to be used in response to rocket attacks. He also threatened to assassinate Hamas leaders if the firing of rockets did not stop.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Monday that Washington understood the situation in which Israel finds itself - "and we fully understand Israel's right to defend itself." Nevertheless, he urged Israel to consider the consequences any action would have on the future of the peace process.

Hamas said earlier that it would abide by an agreement to maintain calm in the Gaza Strip; but after the statement was made, more rockets were fired at Israel.

Gissin said that Israel's arrest of hundreds of Hamas and Islamic militants in the West Bank had put Hamas under pressure because it was harming their attempts to organize for upcoming parliamentary elections.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that there had been "no justification" for the Israeli military operations and that they had "shot down the efforts to advance the peace process.

Abbas cancelled a meeting with Sharon that was supposed to have taken place on Sunday after Israel cancelled a preparatory meeting for the summit.

Jordan's King Abdullah II also postponed a trip to Israel to meet with Sharon and Abbas that was to have taken place this week.

President Bush asked Abdullah last week to meet with Sharon and Abbas to discuss the peace process.

Gissin said that he thought Abdullah would still come here but was waiting for a time when the situation would be "more stable."

The Quartet -- the U.S., European Union, Russia and United Nations -- which penned the road map plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, expressed its hope last week that Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip would help to jump start Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

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