Kassam missiles fired "uneventfully" at Ashkelon over the past few days are actually reported to be test-firings of much more advanced rockets.

The IDF Southern Command Chief, speaking with foreign diplomats and reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday, painted a grim picture of the war threats from Gaza, saying the IDF is making plans for a possible offensive.

Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant said that over 2,000 Kassam rockets have been launched at Israel in the 18 months since Israel withdrew from Gaza - and that Hamas has much more up its sleeve.

"Since the Disengagement, 2,053 Kassams have been launched at Israel," the IDF commander said. "296 explosive charges have been detonated, 143 attacks were carried out against tanks that were outside the security fence - not inside Gaza - and there were 260 incidents of gunfire at IDF forces outside the fence."

Referring to a ceasefire announced by Hamas in November but all but non-existent since then, Galant said, "At present, we are giving the ceasefire a chance, but at the same time, we are preparing for a military offensive in Gaza." He then proceeded to make a strong case why an Israeli offensive would be needed:

"The terror organizations are making a great effort to infiltrate into Israel and carry out suicide attacks - currently without success. They try to infiltrate through the fence, through the sea, and through the Eygptian border. Hamas always has plans on standby for attacks, and can carry them out on short notice...

"It's not just a few terrorists or a small terrorist group, but an entire [army] network, with four brigades, each of which has divisions, companies and battalions. It is supported by Iran, apparently, but also by Syria and Hizbullah. The goal is to establish a military force in Gaza, with delegations going for training in Iran and Iranians coming to train the fighters in Gaza. They have the motivation - hatred for Israel - while the knowledge and military experience comes from the outside."

Foreign sources report that the situation is even worse than that described by Gen. Galant. Kassam missiles fired "uneventfully" at Ashkelon over the past few days are actually reported to be test-firings of advanced rockets. Kassams until now have had a range of approximately 12 kilometers, but the Ashkelon launchings show that they can now consistently hit 19 kilometers away. This multiplies exponentially the number of Israel citizens and locations in Kassam danger. In addition, foreign sources such as Tehran, Damascus and Hizbullah supply arms and weapons, as do Hamas and Islamic Jihad smugglers, thus strengthening and building up the war machine against Israel.

Hamas-Fatah Tensions

Gen. Galant also related to the Hamas-Fatah tensions, saying it could not be predicted which side might win in a future clash between them. He said that Fatah has more fighters and weapons than Hamas, but that Hamas is more dedicated and determined, and better organized as well. Though unity talks continue between the two groups, deep disagreements between them remain and could burst into a civil war at any time.

The southern Gaza crossing into Egypt at Rafah was the site of violent riots this morning. PA policemen fired and wounded five Arabs, and one man died of a heart attack. Ever since the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit nine months ago, Israel has allowed the crossing to be open only about 20% of the time. Its opening today brought some 5,000 Arabs to the site to cross into and out of Egypt, and PA security forces quickly lost control.