Sat, Dec 24, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Israelis act to prevent rocket attacks

DETERRENT Tel Aviv said strikes on Gaza were to be increased as the army killed four Palestinians in two separate incidents in Nablus and north of Gaza

DPA , TEL AVIV

An Israeli army tank fires a shell toward the northern Gaza Strip from its position near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just outside the Gaza Strip, on Thursday night. Israel's vice premier warned that Israel would respond harshly if Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets from Gaza toward Israel, mentioning the possibility of an invasion by ground troops.

PHOTO: AP

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered the Israeli army to step up air strikes and artillery fire on fields in the northern Gaza Strip from where militants have been firing rockets into southern Israel, Israeli media reported yesterday.

The aim was to create an unreachable "buffer zone" in the northern Gaza Strip, the reports quoted security sources as saying, by deterring militants from approaching the missile-launching site north of Gaza City.

An Israeli defense ministry spokeswoman confirmed that "among others, orders have been issued on the restriction of movement in those places from where the terrorist organizations are launching Qassams into Israel."

She gave no further details, but media reports said the restrictions of movement would be enforced "from the air" and Palestinians would be prevented from entering the buffer zone depending on "security circumstances."

Among others, Palestinians would be prevented from accessing the former Jewish settlements of Dugit and Elei Sinai, which Israel evacuated last summer as part of its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Militants have been able to launch locally produced Qassam rockets deeper into Israel from the formerly off-limits settlements and twice hit an industrial zone south of the coastal city of Ashkelon this week for the first time in about two years.

Mofaz issued the orders in a meeting with army chiefs in Tel Aviv on Thursday night, convened after a Gaza-produced Qassam rocket hit an army base on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians on Thursday in separate incidents in a new round of violence that also saw five Israeli soldiers wounded by Palestinian rocket fire.

Three of the Palestinians were militants shot dead in a gunfight during an early-morning Israeli army operation in the northern West Bank city of Nablus.

They included Bashar Hanany, the local leader of the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Amin a-Sheikh, his assistant.

The third was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the militant wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' ruling Fatah party.

The casualties came after Israeli soldiers surrounded a house in which the militants were hiding and an exchange of fire erupted.

The force arrived in the early morning and using megaphones called on the building's residents to leave.

Israeli military sources said the force shot the militants when they tried to escape from the house.

They said Hanany was responsible for a suicide bombing attack at a Tel Aviv market in November last year in which three people were killed and 40 wounded.

He was also behind other attempted attacks and was planning more in the future, the sources said.

Hours after the Nablus gunfight, Israeli artillery killed one Palestinian and injured another when pounding rocket-launching sites north of Gaza City.

The Palestinian killed was passing through a road in the area when hit in the shelling, witnesses said.

The artillery, stationed outside the northern Gaza Strip, fired at fields used by militants to launch missiles at Israel, after two such rockets hit areas near the southern Israeli port city of Ashkelon on Thursday morning.

Five Israeli soldiers, including a battalion commander and his deputy, needed treatment when one of the rockets hit a military base.

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