Qassam Fire, IDF Air Strikes Continue as Gov't Moves on Assisting Sderot

Israel intensified its efforts to target the leadership of militant Palestinian organizations yesterday, carrying out a series of air raids in the Gaza Strip.

Also yesterday, the government and the Knesset approved a series of measures meant to assist residents of Sderot and other communities subject to Palestinian rocket attacks in reinforcing their homes.

Yesterday, 15 Qassam rockets were fired at the western Negev, most landing near Sderot and its environs.

The air force carried out two strikes against targets in the Gaza Strip yesterday. Early yesterday morning, a number of workshops used for the manufacture and storage of Qassam rockets were targeted in Beit Lahiya. A Hamas militant was reported killed in the bombing raid.

At approximately 1 P.M., the air force targeted a vehicle in the Jabalya refugee camp. Four Islamic Jihad militants traveling in the vehicle were killed when the missiles struck.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said that they were key figures in launching Qassam rocket attacks for the group. According to the IDF, the four were also involved in a Qassam attack against Sderot several months ago in which several civilians were injured, including one of the guards in Defense Minister Amir Peretz's security detail.

Altogether, 36 Palestinians have been killed in air force attacks since they began last week. Palestinian sources claim that 13 of the dead are civilians.

The sources cited one incident just before midnight on Sunday in which they claimed that six members of one family, including three children, were injured by an IDF missile that struck a wall of their home in the Jabalya refugee camp.

The IDF's targeting of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants has led the organizations to warn their members to be more vigilant. In particular, they were told not to use cellular telephones and to limit their travel in vehicles.

An IDF spokesman said that in addition to targeting Palestinian militants involved in launching rocket attacks, great efforts are being invested in gathering intelligence on militants on the army's assassination list.

The political leadership has not set a time frame within which the IDF must complete its offensive, and at this stage the intention is to continue it.

Meanwhile, the IDF Home Front Command issued instructions yesterday to the residents of Netivot, a community north of Sderot, on how to protect themselves from a rocket barrage. The town, situated 15 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, lies at the edge of the operational range of improved versions of the Qassam rockets, and also of Grad-type Katyusha rockets.

About a year ago, such rockets landed west of Netivot, and if the security situation in the area escalates, one possible scenario is that Netivot and Ashkelon would be targeted by longer range rockets from the Gaza Strip.

Also yesterday, government agencies approved a series of measures to assist residents of western Negev communities in protecting themselves against rocket attacks.

Interior Minister Roni Bar-On instructed the director of the ministry's southern district to give any person interested in building a reinforced room in his home a permit to do so. In the past, residents who wished to build shelters or reinforce existing rooms in their homes often encountered bureaucratic delays.

In the Knesset, the Interior and Environment committee approved a bill to speed up the planning approval process for reinforced rooms. If passed into law, the bill will give those wishing to build protected areas in their homes a three-year exemption from the betterment tax. Another issue that the committee is considering is allowing permits for the construction of reinforced rooms in apartment buildings to be granted even if only 50 percent of the residents agree. Currently, the backing of three fourths of the residents is needed.

Also yesterday, the Knesset Finance Committee approved a bill for a first reading that would declare Sderot a front-line community, thereby entitling it to tax breaks. The bill was sponsored by 77 MKs.

The government opposes this bill, because it would cost the state hundreds of millions of shekels. However,the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, said that he would negotiate with the MKs over the issue.

Avi Issacharoff, Mijal Grinberg and Zvi Zrahiya contributed to this report.