Rockets, Mortars Fired In Gaza Retaliation For Slain Hamas Militant

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israeli forces raided the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, to prevent a missile attack on the Israeli town of Sderot following Israel's targeted killing of a senior Hamas militant.

Sa'id Arbid, 33, a top Hamas military commander blamed for numerous deadly terror attacks on Israelis during the last decade, was killed in an Israeli air strike as he drove through Gaza City on Tuesday.

Hamas vowed "severe revenge" for the attack, in which another Hamas militant, Ashraf Halabi, 28, and at least two civilians were also killed.

At least two Qassam rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip on Wednesday - one landing in the Israeli town of Sderot. Sderot has been hit by a number of missiles during the last two months, causing some damage but no serious injuries.

Three mortars were also fired at the community of Morag in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Israeli troops and armored vehicles were engaged in military operations near Beit Hanoun, searching for rocket launchers and trying to prevent the firing of rockets from the northern Gaza Strip, military sources said.

They said that Israeli forces opened fire on two Palestinians, hitting one of them, as they approached a rocket launcher.

At least five explosive devices were discharged against the troops, and numerous exchanges of fire erupted during the operation, which was continuing late in the day on Wednesday.

'Focused prevention'

Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said on Wednesday that the attack on Arbid was not connected in any way to the American attempts to deal a deathblow to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. This was the first Israeli targeted killing since the war in Iraq began.

"This focused prevention approach that we take is part of a range of methods to deal with the murderous terrorism, and in yesterday's case we are speaking of the liquidation of a head of the snake, a senior figure in the Hamas military framework," Boim said in a radio interview.

"From our standpoint, this is nothing new," he said. "The timing, yesterday, was the outgrowth of a series of preliminary operations in order to liquidate a senior figure such as this."

Arbid was the deputy of Mohammed Dief, who is at the top of Israel's most wanted list after escaping a number of assassination attempts. He headed the military wing of Hamas, Izzadin Kassam Brigades, after its leader Salah Shehade was killed in an Israeli bombing last July.

Arbid was accused of involvement in terror attacks during the last two years in which 28 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed.

Previously, he was directly involved in a bus bombing in Tel Aviv in 1994 in which 21 people were killed and dozens wounded and the kidnap and execution of Israeli soldier Nahshon Wachsman, who was also an American citizen, military sources said.

In other recent developments, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair reiterated their backing for the so-called "road map" to a Palestinian state, which is due to be publicized after the government of newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is confirmed within the next two weeks.

Head of Israeli military intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday that PA Chairman Yasser Arafat is trying to thwart attempts by Abu Mazen to form a government, Israel radio reported.

Arafat, who was not in favor of appointing a prime minister, named Abu Mazen to the post only after coming under heavy international pressure as part of a reform process in the PA. The areas of security and peace talks remain in Arafat's hands.

According to the Israeli assessment, Abu Mazen wants to enact a change from terrorism to the political process, but his strategic goals are the same as Arafat's: A Palestinian state in all of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including eastern Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel.

Israelis from both the left and right oppose the idea of opening Israel's borders to millions of Palestinians, which they say would effectively put an end to the Jewish state within a few years.