IAF Fires Missiles at Rocket Launchers in Gaza

U.S. refrains from criticizing Israel's renewal of targeted killings policy, urges PA to rein in militants.

The Israel Air Force attacked on Wednesday several launchers of Qassam rockets in the refugee camp of Jabalya north of Gaza City. The launchers, ready to fire rockets, were hit.

Palestinian sources said that several missiles were fired at a cell of Islamic Jihad militants preparing a rocket launcher to fire Qassams. The sources said that the cell members were not hurt, but the launcher was probably damaged in the attack.

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the attack is part of the military's effort to step up anti terrorist activity following a recent decision of the security establishment, including arresting dozens of Islamic Jihad activists in the West Bank.

Coordination meetingA coordination meeting was held on Wednesday in Tel Aviv between head of the IDF Plans and Policy Directorate Maj. Gen. Itzhak Harel and aide to the Palestinian Interior Minister on National Security, Jamal abu-Ziad, Itim reported.

The parties presented their views on the principles of coordination and collaboration ahead of the disengagement plan. The two officials also discussed the existing security plan and measures for strengthening Palestinian security establishment.

The meeting focused in particular on ways to rein in radical Palestinian factions seeking to curb the plan, in light of the recent escalation in violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

White House declines to criticize targeted killingsThe White House on Wednesday declined to criticize Israel for resuming its practice of targeted killing against Islamic Jihad militants and called on the Palestinian leadership to do more to combat terrorist groups attempting to derail peace efforts.

In a sign that a truce with Palestinians has deteriorated significantly, Israel has now resumed the policy of "targeted killings" of militants it shelved in February.

"There are terrorist organizations in the region that are determined to derail efforts toward the president's two-state vision of Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security. Some of these are terrorist organizations that have direct ties to Damascus," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters when asked about Israel's decision.

"Our views on terrorist organizations are well known. They need to be dismantled. There is more that the Palestinian leadership can do to go after those who engage in violence and terrorist activity, and we encourage them to do more," McClellan added.

"Our policy (on targeted killings) is well known and is unchanged," McClellan said later, though officials declined to state what U.S. policy entailed. In the past, the U.S. government has voiced opposition to the policy.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Wednesday warned that Israel might carry out limited operation in the Gaza Strip after the completion of the pullout from the Gaza Strip in order to counter Palestinian attacks.

"If needed, Israel will return to the Gaza Strip after the disengagement for several days in order to put an end to terror," Shalom said.

Speaking to foreign ambassadors to Israel, Shalom also said that the Palestinian Authority should shake itself off the legacy of former PA chairman Yasser Arafat.

The Foreign Minister's statement came several hours after a senior security aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that if the PA fails to curb terror attacks during the disengagement, Israel may launch air strikes in Palestinian territory, even at the cost of "major collateral damage."

"Israel will act in a very resolute manner in order to prevent terror attacks and [militant] fire while the disengagement is being implemented," said Brigadier-General (Res.) Eival Giladi, the head of the Coordination and Strategy team of the Prime Minister's Office.

"If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people."

Giladi said that the issue was raised during the Tuesday summit between Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra signalled on Wednesday that Israel had resumed an assassination policy against militants from the Islamic Jihad group, confirming Palestinian reports of a failed Israeli missile strike in Gaza a day earlier. The attempt took place about ten minutes after the opening of the tense Tuesday afternoon summit.

According to Giladi, "the Palestinians understand that the more that they act, the less chance there is of an Israeli operation." The Palestinians understand that the lives of the innocent people on their side are in their hands, he comntinued.

"We will not allow attacks on innocent people on our side at a time when the other side understands that we are keeping innocent people on their side free from harm."

Ezra confirms assassination bid on Jihad manAsked about the Tuesday airstrike, on which the IDF had declined comment, Ezra said "There was an attempt in Gaza to intercept an [Islamic Jihad] activist yesterday," Ezra said.

"It was unsuccessful," he told Army Radio, without naming the militant.

"Any means to neutralize the organization are relevant and possible," he said.

Ezra said "an opportunity had presented itself" and Israel targeted the militant during the summit in Jerusalem.

Sharon had suspended what Israel calls targeted killings after declaring a truce with Abbas four months ago, but complained at their summit on Tuesday that the Palestinian leader was not doing enough to rein in gunmen.

Senior IDF sources told Haaretz on Tuesday that in the wake of recent terrorist attacks orchestrated by the Islamic Jihad militant group the military has decided to resume targeted killings of senior leaders of the group.

Israel refrained from targeted killing since the February Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

The IDF intends to act also against those assisting to carry out terrorist attacks and not only pursue militants referred to as "ticking bombs." If necessary, the military said it will also enter the West Bank city of Tul Karm, which is now under full Palestinian control.