Mortar Shell Hits Ritual Bath, IDF Brass: Gov´t Tying Our Hands

Terrorists continued to attack Gush Katif Saturday, while army officers revealed "there is a lot to do against mortar shelling, but our hands are tied."

, | updated: 00:02

"Our frustration doesn't even begin to describe our feeling. Terrorists have learned the pattern of (our) maneuvers and this only encourages them to continue shooting," officers said on the Ynet web site operated by the Hebrew daily newspaper Yediot Aharonot. "This cannot go on for a long time," they added.

Arabs continued their non-stop barrage on Jewish communities in northern and southern Gaza Friday and Saturday, heavily damaging a building that houses a ritual baths (mikveh) at Netzarim. Mortar shells and Kassam rockets landed next to a synagogue and a house in Netzer Hazani as residents returned from a memorial service for their rabbis who was killed by terrorists two years ago. No one was hurt in the explosions.

A resident of another Gush Katif community was hospitalized Friday after being struck in the head by shrapnel from a mortar shell blast. His condition is stable.

"We have enough forces and are not lacking plans that can decidedly disrupt the gangs that launch mortar shells, but we have not received a 'green light.' The problem is that terrorists see that we move in for several hours, and they understand the maneuvers are not serious," a high ranking officer disclosed.

Jewish communities in southern Gaza include 18 in the Gush Katif area, adjacent to the city of Khan Yunis, and three in the north, between Gaza to the south and Ashkelon and Sderot to the north and west. Army forces are stationed in both areas, but IDF spokesmen have said that their main objective is to patrol the main roads, preventing terrorists from planting roadside bombs and bypass various walls and fences through the use of tunnels.

This weekend's explosions marked the third time in one week that Jewish places of worship and ritual were hit. On Tuesday, December 21, a Kassam rocket hit a synagogue during morning prayers. No injuries were reported, but two people were treated for shock. The 20 worshipers reported that they had reached the verse, "Who among the gods is like You, O G-d; who is like You, majestic in sanctity" when the shell exploded.

Damage from mortar shelling has been relatively light because terrorists are unable to direct mortar fire on a specific target. However, there have been dozens of "near-misses" that have exploded next to classrooms, nurseries, hothouses, synagogues and homes. Two people have been killed in the past four months and dozens have suffered injuries.

More than 5,000 shells have exploded on the Jewish towns in the past four years, and many residents took matters in their own hands, Friday, briefly blocking the main road Arabs use between Gaza and Khan Yunis. "If the Army withdraws from their positions, our people will take them over" and will begin defending themselves, said Yakki (Yaakov) Yazriel, financial manager of the agricultural community Netzer Hazani in Gush Katif.

"We are in a real bind," another senior IDF officer told Ynet. On the one hand, we are limited in taking action, and on the other hand we cannot remain passive in the face of extensive rocket and mortar-shell attacks."

Government officials have openly stated that Israel does not want to begin a large-scale campaign to end the rocket fire on both sides of the pre-1967 border in order not to be accused of disturbing and heating up the upcoming PA elections January 9. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to refrain from carrying out major counter-terror offensives prior to the elections except to target "ticking bombs."

The government also considers it a fact that it will dismantle 25 Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria by summer even though the Knesset has not voted on the plan except for approving its first reading that allows a committee to issue a report on it. The program cannot pass without Knesset approval of the bill's second and third readings and consent to massive funding necessary to carry it out.

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