IAF Intensifies Attacks After Rocket Hits Ashkelon

Israel destroyed the PA's interior ministry building in Gaza early this morning, and bombed a Hamas training camp and Jihad-training school. Top Hamas government figures are in hiding.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 10:56

Last night's Kassam rocket attack on the heart of Ashkelon - Israel's 13th-largest city, with a population of nearly 110,000 - marks the latest "major escalation" in the Hamas war against Israel. In response, Israel has threatened a major retaliation against the terrorist authority.

Hamas has marked a number of achievements over the past year, beginning last summer with Israel's retreat from Gaza, and continuing a few months later with the Israeli and U.S. consent to allow the terrorist group to participate in the Palestinian Authority election. Haaretz commentator Amir Oren said this week that Israel's consent was based on political considerations. The current situation, he said, was "brought upon us by Sharon, Olmert and Mofaz when they gave into American pressure to allow Hamas to take part in the election, fearing that if Hamas were to be kept out, the terrorist attacks would be renewed, thus harming the Kadima party on the eve of the Israeli election."

Following its overwhelming victory in the PA election, Hamas continued its success by forming a government, and then evading the Western countries' financial boycott by raising hundreds of millions of dollars from Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. In the meanwhile, Hamas terrorists launched a massive rocket campaign against Sderot and other Negev areas, implemented an impressive attack in which they tunneled into Israel, killed two soldiers and kidnapped a third, and have now successfully rocketed Ashkelon.

Throughout this process, Israeli officials have termed various junctures "a dramatic escalation" and have threatened - and sometimes attacked - Hamas in various ways.

The Kassam attack on Ashkelon was no exception. Prime Minister Olmert said last night, "This grave act and this criminal attempt to harm Israeli citizens will have far-reaching ramifications, and Hamas will be the first to feel them." While Israel's offensive in Gaza continued and intensified last night, Olmert convened his security-political cabinet this morning to decide a course of action. Defense Minister Amir Peretz is expected to recommend strong action against Hamas. Hamas has already threatened counter-actions.

One likely option that Israel might implement is to send the IDF into northern Gaza more massively and permanently, in order to prevent Kassam launching-cells from nearing the border fence. With the now-proven 10-12 kilometer range of the new Kassams, and given the fact that the Gaza Strip is less than 8 kilometers wide in most places, this is likely to prove to be very difficult.

Last night's bombing of the Hamas interior ministry was the second in a week, and this time the four-story building totally collapsed and began burning. Four Arabs were reportedly moderately injured. In the previous attack, only Hamas minister Said Siam's 4th-floor office was targeted.

Israel Air Force Apache helicopters also bombed a Hamas training camp in southern Gaza. Six consecutive missiles totally destroyed one of the buildings.

A third target was a school on Jaffa Rd. in Gaza City which is known to teach a particularly radical brand of Islam and hatred of Israel, Jews and the West. The NFC Hebrew news website reports that a study by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, based on a document written by the late arch-terrorist Sheikh Ahmed Yassin himself, presents the goals of the school: it was designed to form a new generation of young Palestinians imbued with the spirit of radical Islam and permeated with deep political awareness of the fight against Israel and against the "world Zionist plots" and the "hate of the Crusades."

Another front in the offensive last night was Khan Yunis, adjacent to much of what used to be Gush Katif. Tanks and infantry, covered by helicopters, penetrated deep into the area, but the objective was not publicized.

IDF forces in Ramallah attempted, yet again, to arrest the chairman of the PA's parliament, Abdel Aziz Dvik, and two other parliament members. The forces surrounded their homes, but the wanted men were not found and are in hiding. They have been forced to be on the run since last week, when the IDF arrested 26 PA legislators and 8 Hamas government ministers.