Fatah Claims Credit for Rocket Fire on W. Negev

The Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade terror group has claimed responsibility for Sunday morning's rocket attacks on southern Israel.

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Hana Levi Julian, | updated: 12:05

Rocket exploding  in "open area" burns field
Rocket exploding in "open area" burns field
Israel News Photo: Flash 90

Less than two weeks after Israel ended its Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, terrorists once again launched rockets at civilians in southern Israel early Sunday morning with a barrage of short-range Kassams. This time, the Fatah faction led by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is involved in the attacks.

Fatah's military wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade terrorist group, claimed responsibility for firing one of three short-range rockets at the Gaza Belt region, according to the Hebrew-language Yediot Acharonot's Arab affairs reporter Ali Waked.

Israeli intelligence officials said, however, that the rockets were launched by members of the Hamas and Shuhada al-Aqsa terrorist cells, neither of which are willing to take public responsibility for the attacks, due to fears of Israeli retaliation. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting that the government considers the Hamas terrorist organization to be fully responsible for all rocket fire against southern Israel. "It's the only landlord in the Gaza Strip," he said. "It's responsible and we will act against it."

The Color Red incoming missile alert system wailed its warning at around 6:50 a.m. to Israelis living in the Gaza Belt region. Two rockets slammed into the Eshkol region, one landing between two kindergarten buildings. A third exploded in the Sdot Negev region. Miraculously, no one was injured and no damage was reported.

Two hours later, Gaza snipers opened fire at IDF soldiers patrolling near the security barrier near the Kissufim Crossing. The troops returned fire. No casualties were reported on either side.

At around 11:00 a.m., four mortar shells were fired at the Sha'ar HaNegev region as well. Two of the mortars exploded, but two others did not, and lay dormant. No one was injured and no damage was reported. 

The attacks followed on the heels of a Grad missile attack on the coastal city of Ashkelon during the Sabbath. The missile exploded in an open area on the southern outskirts of the city, and no injuries or damage were reported.

By 11:50 a.m., Israel had not yet responded in force to the attacks. Olmert told Cabinet ministers in his opening statement, "We shall not return to the rules of the game the terror organizations have been trying to dictate, and we won't be dragged into an unstoppable shooting war. The situation today is that the rocket fire continues, and this stops the State of Israel from moving forward. I've instructed the defense minister to order the military officials to prepare for an Israeli response. We won't warn the terror organizations in advance of when and how we plan to respond, but Israel will respond in the manner it chooses." 

Last week, Gaza terrorists fired a short-range Kassam attack at the rocket-battered city of Sderot, where the first-ever fortified, rocket-proof Torah study hall was dedicated last Thursday. 

The Jewish National Fund has also been inspired to build a protected indoor playground and recreation center for the region's families. The center, which is expected to be finished by the Purim holiday in March, will be equipped with special indoor and outdoor bomb shelters.

The Kassam attack came after a retaliatory air strike by Israel Air Force pilots on a weapons factory near the Gaza-Egyptian border town of Rafiah..

The return to the "tit for tat" strategy began Tuesday after Gaza terrorists killed an IDF soldier and wounded three others, including an officer who was badly injured, in a cross-border bombing near the Kissufim Crossing. In response, the Israel Air Force destroyed smuggling tunnels on the Philadelphi Route that runs along the border between Gaza and Egypt. The IDF also sent in ground troops and tanks for a raid on the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis that lasted several hours.

The next day, Israel Air Force (IAF) war planes struck a 25-year-old Global Jihad (al Qaeda) terrorist who was one of the members of the cell responsible for detonating Wednesday's explosive device that killed the IDF soldier. A second terrorist in the vehicle was also injured in the strike. Local sources said that five children were injured as well, but the claim was not independently confirmed.

IDF to 'Act Without Hesitation'?
In a statement issued at the start of the Cabinet meeting on Sunday, January 18, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded to the first post-ceasefire rocket attack by reminding Israelis that the truce was extremely "fragile." He added that Israel reserved the right to renew full military operations in Gaza if the attacks do not stop.

"The decision leaves Israel with the freedom to respond and resume firing if our enemies, the various terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, continue their attacks," he said in a statement disseminated to the media following the meeting.

US Envoy Holding Talks in Cairo
United States Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been shuttling back and forth between Egypt, Israel, Ramallah and Jordan over the past week, is still in the region.

Mitchell, who has strongly urged Israel and Hamas to extend the "truce" that was declared on January 18, is scheduled to arrive in Cairo on Sunday to discuss proposals to enforce a ceasefire in Gaza.

Palestinian Authority Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has also been summoned to Cairo for talks on Sunday as well, prompting him to postpone a planned trip to Europe.