3 Qassams Hit Negev; Local Schools to Stay Closed

Rocket strikes kibbutz chicken coop; two Qassams said to have hit Sderot; IDF strikes Gaza targets in wake of attacks.

Three Qassam rockets fired from Gaza struck the western Negev on Thursday morning, a day after a woman was killed and two other people were seriously wounded by rocket strikes on the town of Sderot.

In wake of the ongoing attacks, Sderot student council announced Thursday it would not allow the town's comprehensive high school to open.

Sha'ar Hanegev regional council also said it would not open its elementary school until the beginning of next week.

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday gave the state two weeks to explain why clasrooms in the Sderot region have not been reinforced. The state had told the court that there was no way to protect Sderot schoolchildren from the threat of Qassam missiles.

Two rockets struck Sderot at around 7:30 A.M. Thursday, Channel 10 television reported, but did not cause casualties or damage. Hamas claimed responsibility for the strikes, Israel Radio said.

The Israel Defense Forces said that a rocket hit a chicken coop at Kibbutz Gevim, causing some damage.

On Wednesday morning, Fa'ina Slutzker, 57, a Sderot resident was killed in the street as she waited for her husband. A 24-year-old bodyguard for Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot, was seriously wounded in the strike. Hours later, a 17-year-old boy was seriously hurt in another attack on the town.

Following the rocket strikes, the Israel Air Force attacked a number of buildings in the Gaza Strip, giving the residents advance warning and telling them to leave.

A helicopter fired two missiles into the house of a militant in Gaza City. Neighbors said the occupant, a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, was not in the building at the time and there were no reports of casualties.

A Hamas headquarters and an arms storage facility in the town of Jabalya, north of Gaza City, were also attacked from the air, and similar facilities linked with the Islamic Jihad militant group were bombed in Rafah and Jabalya.

The IDF confirmed all of the air strikes.

Army sources said that most of the 19 rockets fired on Wednesday were launched from the area around the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, from where the Israel Defense Forces withdrew last week following a six-day incursion.

Peretz consulted with senior defense officials after the deadly Sderot attack Wednesday, and decided the IDF should step up its operations against the Qassam launch sites in Gaza.

But defense sources said no major ground operation would be launched in Gaza in response, and that even a smaller operation focused on the area from which the rockets were launched was unlikely.

Peretz also decided against resuming artillery fire on Gaza, which was stopped after errant shells killed 19 civilians in Beit Hanun last week.

"There will be a response, but it must be effective, not cause a deterioration of the situation and not bog down in an occupation of Gaza," explained one defense official. "There are no magic solutions to this problem.

"However, it is clear that we cannot sustain the current situation," he added.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was in Los Angeles, said he was briefed on the attack and had consulted with Peretz on a response. "For a long time now, the IDF has been operating in the Strip, and just now it finished an operation in Beit Hanun," he stated. "The operation in Gaza will continue without a break ... and we will decide on additional steps to fight this murderous terror."

Olmert did not advance his return to Israel, as he was due to fly back several hours later anyway.