Sunday, March 27, 2011

Israeli aircraft struck a Palestinian rocket squad in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, killing two militants as the military prepared to activate a new defense system to shoot down incoming rockets.

Islamic Jihad, a militant group that frequently attacks Israel, confirmed two members were killed in the airstrike, while a third was critically wounded. The group did not specify whether they were in the process of launching rockets.

Gaza militants, including Islamic Jihad and the territory's Hamas rulers, had said over the weekend that they would halt their fire if Israel did. It was not clear whether they were reneging on that pledge or whether the air strike hit a rogue group of militants ignoring the cease-fire overture.

A spokesman for Gaza's Hamas-run interior ministry, Ihab Ghussein, accused Israel of seeking to perpetuate the violence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had "no interest" in escalating things.

"But we won't hesitate to employ the might of the military against those who would attack our citizens," Netanyahu added in remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Weeks of stepped-up rocket and mortar attacks have drawn fears of renewed war and led to new calls in Israel for the military to deploy the $200 million Iron Dome anti-rocket system.

The Israeli military said the system should begin operating on Sunday near Beersheba, southern Israel's largest city. A second anti-missile battery will be deployed in another large southern city, Ashdod, the military added, without specifying an exact date.

The Israeli-developed system uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and is supposed to shoot them down within seconds of their launch.

Security officials said the new barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza and public pressure had led the military to deploy the system, which is still being fine-tuned. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss operational decisions.

Military spokesman Capt. Barak Raz said the system was in an "evaluation stage," as any new system would be.

Once deployed, however, the Iron Dome still cannot provide full protection to residents of Israel's south, Home Front Minister Matan Vilnai told Army Radio on Sunday.

The renewed hostilities have fed concerns of another large-scale Israeli military operation against Gaza militants. In December 2008, Israel invaded Gaza in response to years of rocket and mortar barrages on its southern communities, killing 1,400 Palestinians , including more than 900 civilians, and causing widespread destruction.

Thirteen Israelis also died.

Israel says that Hamas, which suffered heavy losses in the fighting, has largely recovered from the fighting and restocked its arsenal with more powerful weapons.


Post a Comment