Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Israel to retaliate against Palestinian rocket-firing squads

AGENCIES , JERUSALEM

Israel will take military action against Palestinian rocket-launching squads in the Gaza Strip despite a month-old ceasefire, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said yesterday.

"A directive has been given to the defense establishment to take pinpoint action against the rocket-launching squads," Olmert's office said in a statement, a day after Qassam rockets wounded two people in southern Israel.

"In parallel, Israel will continue to maintain the ceasefire and work with the Palestinian Authority so that immediate steps are taken to halt the Qassam firings," the statement said, appearing to suggest no major offensive would be launched.

The statement was issued at the end of consultations between Olmert and security chiefs.

"It is clear that Israel's policy of restraint is not open-ended and these rocket attacks must stop," David Baker, an official in Olmert's office, said earlier in the day.

Olmert has come under growing public criticism for failing to retaliate for more than 60 rockets fired by militants in the Gaza Strip since a Nov. 26 truce, while also under US and European pressure to keep the ceasefire.

A 14-year-old boy was in critical condition and another, also 14, was seriously wounded by the rocket that slammed into a street near a house in the town of Sderot, a frequent target of rockets.

Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group, claimed its forces had fired the rocket, and called it retaliation for Israel's continued military raids on its hideouts in the occupied West Bank.

The truce had halted Israeli-Palestinian fighting in and near the Gaza Strip, but Israel has continued raids that it says are to prevent attacks from being launched from the West Bank.

Israel has killed 15 Palestinians since the ceasefire began, all but one in the West Bank. About half were gunmen.

Meanwhile, Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will meet in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik on Jan. 4, Olmert's office announced yesterday.

There were no immediate details on the agenda of the talks.

The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, was in Jerusalem yesterday for talks with Israeli officials to prepare for next week's summit.

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