Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, under pressure on the eve of a crucial Likud party vote which will determine the date of the internal party primaries, said he ordered the IDF to use
"all means" to protect Israeli citizens. Five civilians suffered shrapnel wounds in Saturday's barrage of Kassam rockets fired from Abbas-controlled Gaza on the Negev town of Sderot.
But Sharon also said, "We did not leave Gaza in order to return there" and ruled out a ground assault at this time. Major-General Yisrael Ziv, chief of military operations, said, however, that a ground assault might have to be launched in the future. Ziv added, "We intend to put intensive pressure on Hamas."
Both Sharon and Ziv said that there are no time limitations on the retaliation, dubbed First Rain. Sharon stated that IDF actions will include "our usual practice of refraining from harming civilians."
The cabinet approved use of artillery to halt the bombing of Jewish towns, but limited its use primarily for times when inclement weather endangers helicopter strikes. The decision, however, was not a unanimous one. Housing Minister Ya'akov Herzog said that artillery should be allowed, if necessary, while Infrastructure Minister Binyamin (Fuad) Eliezer objected. Both ministers are Labor party MKs.
Health Minister Danny Naveh (Likud) said the orders should be, "Shoot. Don't talk."
Saturday's massive Arab rocket assault included at least one rocket which landed on a kibbutz southeast of Ashkelon, indicating that terrorists now have longer-range rockets which can more easily reach the large power station south of the city.
In Judea and Samaria, IDF soldiers rounded up 207 Arab terrorists Saturday night, including gang leaders. They arrested 44 in the Jenin, Tulkarm and Shechem areas, 31 in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem and 48 in Bethlehem, Hevron and the Jordan Valley.