Qassam rockets kept raining down on the southern town of Sderot Thursday morning a day after a woman was killed and two other civilians were seriously wounded.
Two rockets landed in the town at 7.30 A.M., Channel 10 television reported. There was no immediate report of casualties or damage.
The woman killed Wednesday was Faina (Fatima) Slutzker, 57, a Sderot resident. The wounded included one of Defense Minister Amir Peretz's guards, Maor Peretz, and a 17-year-old boy.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad both claimed responsibility for the attack and promised to continue firing rockets at Israel.
Army sources said that most of the 16 rockets fired on Wednesday were launched from the area around Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip, from which the Israel Defense Forces withdrew nine days ago following a six-day incursion.
Defense Minister Peretz consulted with senior defense officials after the incident and decided the IDF should step up its operations against the Qassam launchers.
But defense sources said no major ground operation would be launched in Gaza in response to the fatal attack, 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, since he was due to fly back in a few hours anyway.
Over the course of the day, Palestinians fired at least 13 Qassams at Israel, but only one was fatal. That one landed at about 8 A.M. on a path near the defense minister's house in Sderot. Slutzker was mortally wounded and died en route to the hospital, while Peretz, the bodyguard, was seriously wounded, and doctors had to amputate both his legs.
At about 9 A.M., another rocket damaged the fence that separates Israel from Gaza, but caused no casualties. Four other rockets were fired at Sderot at 10:30 A.M., but caused neither damage nor casualties.
In the afternoon, two rockets hit south of Ashkelon, landing close to a sensitive facility but causing no damage, and a third landed in the city itself.
In the evening, four more rockets hit Sderot and its environs, and one of them was responsible for the third casualty: It landed in a playground and seriously wounded a 17-year-old boy.
Defense sources said that one reason no major military operation was being considered in response to Wednesday's attack is that such an operation would probably not stop the Qassams. "For six years already, we've been searching for the formula [that would end the rocket fire], but not finding it," explained one.
Rightist Knesset factions, however, demanded a harsh reaction to the fatal Qassam attack. The chairman of the National Union-National Religious Party, MK Uri Ariel, said that if Israel did not embark on a "Defensive Shield 2," it would end up with a "Lebanon War 3." Operation Defensive Shield was a major incursion into the West Bank in 2002.
Fellow faction member Aryeh Eldad said that the security concept represented by the disengagement from Gaza had collapsed. He also said the government had failed to protect the citizens of the North and was not managing to protect the South either.
In contrast, MK Zahava Gal-On of the left-wing Meretz faction said that instead of "flexing his muscles with muscle man [Arnold] Schwarzenegger" in Los Angeles, Olmert should meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to work out a diplomatic solution to the Qassam fire.
MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima), who lives in Kibbutz Kfar Aza in the western Negev, said that "running after the Qassams in Beit Hanun is like the Dutch boy putting his finger in the dike. International pressure must be brought to bear on the Egyptian government to meet its obligations to effectively supervise the border crossings from Sinai to Gaza."
Dichter: IDF must expand action to stop Qassams Public Defense Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima) said Wednesday morning that Israel's political echelon must instruct the Israel Defense Forces to eliminate all Qassam rocket fire using any means necessary, regardless of the risk to soldiers' safety.
Dichter's comment was made in response to Wednesday's deadly Qassam strike on the western Negev city of Sderot.
"The political echelon should have and still must issue an order to do everything possible to end the Qassam fire from Gaza into Israel," Dichter said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, there isn't such an order. The current IDF operation is not sufficient. The operation must be expanded," he added.
Minister Eitan Cabel (Labor) also called for a rigorous response to the continuous Qassam rocket fire. "The IDF and the defense establishment must operate with sternness and clarity, although it is likely that the rockets will continue to fall despite any operation," he said.
MK Danny Naveh (Likud) said that the current policy discriminates against the residents of southern Israel. "Every day that goes by without a widespread action (to stop the Qassam fire) creates the impression that the fate of Sderot is not the fate of Tel Aviv," he said, referring to the probability that if rockets were to rain upon Tel Aviv, the response would have been more forceful.
"Israel will pay dearly with human lives if it doesn't take action immediately," he added.
MK Yitzhak Levy (National Religious Party-National Union) said that the residents of Sderot are paying with their lives for the recklessness of having evacuated Gaza during the disengagement.
MK Dov Hanin (Hadash) said "The shedding of the blood of civilians, be it in Beit Hanun or in Sderot, must stop immediately."
"The path of violence and force has led us to a dead end, and the only viable option is to open up the channels of negotiation," he added.
MK Taleb a-Sana (Ra'am - Ta'al) offered his condolences to the family of Wednesday's rocket strike victim, and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded. He called on both Israel and the Palestinians to cease the violence and return to the negotiating table.
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