IAF Strikes Targets in Gaza in Response to Qassam Fire

Gaza militants fire 24 rockets at Negev Wednesday; Olmert says attacks demand a response.

The Israel Air Force struck targets in the Gaza Strip late Wednesday night, hours after Gaza militants fired 24 Qassam rockets at Israel.

The first strike targeted a weapons factory in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip and the second hit an arms factory in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.

All aircraft and personnel returned to Israel safely.

Earlier on Wednesday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stopped short of pledging retaliation for a surge of Qassam rockets that pelted the western Negev on Wednesday, saying "there can't be a situation where there is a truce, but the situation on the ground is very different."

"This demands a response, and there will be a response," he added.

Olmert spoke just days before the six-month cease fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, was set to expire.

One rocket fired Wednesday struck a parking lot adjacent to a supermarket in the southern town of Sderot. Three people sustained shrapnel wounds and nine others were treated for shock.

The militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rocket attack.

"My whole body shook and I couldn't stand up," said Anat Edri, an eyewitness in Sderot, to Army Radio. "I heard the warning system siren, and our home is not protected. I went out to the balcony and I saw it, like a spinning top in the air, making a very loud whistling sound. I yelled out and called to my daughter, who was in the house. I stayed to watch the Qassam fly over my house and hit the commercial center."

Shortly thereafter, the Israel Air Force renewed air strikes against rocket squads, aiming at launchers in northern Gaza on Wednesday, the military said. Palestinian hospital officials said a 47-year-old man was killed when a missile hit his house and a balcony collapsed on him.

Earlier Wednesday, two rockets exploded near Ashkelon. Two people were treated at the nearby Barzilai Medical Center for hearing loss following the strike.

Another rocket hit an open area in the Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council, and another struck just south of Ashkelon. The rest exploded in open areas in the Eshkol area. There were no damages or injuries reported in the incidents.

On Tuesday, militants fired 11 rockets and a mortar shell at the western Negev. One of the rockets exploded in a soccer field next to Sapir College in Sderot. There were no injuries, but several people were treated for shock.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rockets fired on Tuesday, saying they were a response to the Israel Defense Forces' killing of a top group commander in the West Bank earlier in the day.

Jihad has threatened to increase its cross-border rocket fire, despite the days remaining in the ruce. "Our rockets will not stop and it will be like the rain over all the Zionist towns around the Gaza Strip," said Abu Hamza, a spokesman for the Palestinian militant group.

Hamas has in recent days arrested several members of the smaller Palestinian factions responsible for the rocket fire. While the group's leaders announced Tuesday that they did not intend to renew the cease-fire, they also said they would not fire at Israel unless provoked.