Hamas has begun to shift the blame to other terrorist groups for the escalation of attacks, as three Israel Cabinet ministers say a second Operation Cast Lead is on the horizon. Meanwhile, the IDF bombed more Hamas targets in Gaza overnight, scoring direct hits on two terrorist sites.
After three Cabinet ministers maintained that Israel must send a “clear message” to Hamas to stop the escalation, Hamas leaders said they asked other terrorist cells to reduce attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers. Hamas added it does not want to give Israel an "excuse” to carry out another large-scale counterterrorist campaign.
The three-week Operation Cast Lead ended two years ago this month, drastically reducing the number and extent of Gaza-based rocket attacks but not putting an end to them.
The number of rocket and mortar attacks has soared over the past three weeks, causing several injuries and property damage and sending thousand of southern Israel residents back to the fears that traumatized them for years before Cast Lead.
More than 20 shelling and missile attacks have been recorded during the first nine days of this year, a rate that is a sharp increase over the approximately 250 that were fired in all of 2009.
"It's quite clear that the Palestinian side, Hamas, is trying to increase the tension there," Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz told journalists before the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday morning. "I think that Israel won't walk into a trap. Hamas will very soon learn that if they continue this way they are only going to lose."
Silvan Shalom, a senior Likud figure and the Minister for Regional Development, was somewhat more blunt. "If it carries on like this, then it's not impossible that we'll go into Cast Lead II, something that nobody wants," he said in a radio interview. "I hope that we can nip it in the bud."
Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau said before the Cabinet meeting, "The government must consider afresh a policy of zero tolerance, exert a heavy price [and] not let this situation deteriorate. It needs to stop.”
Israel mainstream media had barely reported the escalation in rocket and mortar attacks until they caused several injuries the past several days. Three workers were wounded in an attack on a kibbutz, two of them seriously, and a kibbutz truck driver suffered shrapnel injuries when a rocket exploded as he was driving in the western Negev.
Gaza-based terrorists also have increased the number of attempts to bury roadside bombs along the security fence at Gaza. Their aim is to blow up a passing army vehicle and kidnap any surviving soldiers. IDF aerial and ground surveillance has so far overpowered the terrorists, several of whom have been wounded or killed while trying to bury the bombs.