Israel Defense Forces artillery batteries deployed along the Gaza Strip border have fired more than 5,100 shells at "launch areas" for Qassam rockets since March 31, mainly in northern Gaza, according to the army's figures.
The IDF stepped up its response to Qassam rocket fire two and a half months ago. Most of the artillery response consists of explosive shells fired by a battery deployed near Kibbut Nahal Oz.
Southern Command officials claim that the shelling has reduced the number of Qassam rockets fired at the Negev and, more importantly, has reduced their accuracy. They say the missile operators are afraid to remain in the targeted areas and therefore do not take the time to aim the launchers precisely.
Five Palestinian civilians have been killed as a result of IDF artillery in the past ten weeks, including a young girl and a teenager.
The pattern of Israel's shelling changes frequently. Usually, a heavy Qassam bombardment will provoke a few hundred IDF shells within a 24-hour period, but occasionally the shelling is suspended for some days.
The artillery shelling was initiated by former prime minister Ariel Sharon shortly after the completion of the IDF's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September, though Sharon had been talking about the need for a beefed-up response to Qassam rockets long before then.
The IDF has since reduced the distance of its artillery fire from Palestinian homes and farmland, from 300 meters to only 100 meters. Several human rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice over the change, but the justices refused to order a suspension of the shelling. Israelis living near the border have also complained about the shelling, saying it does not help, and is only scaring them and their children.