- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

SDEROT, Israel — Rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into the town of Sderot yesterday killed an Israeli woman, critically injured two persons and narrowly missed the home of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, raising pressure on the government to order the army back across the border.

Israeli warplanes raided the Gaza Strip overnight, hours after the Palestinian rocket attack.

The retaliatory attack followed a promise by Mr. Peretz to hit back and a warning that militants would “pay a heavy price.”

Fatima Slutsker, a 57-year-old mother of two, died of wounds sustained when the rocket struck early yesterday in a street in the town of Sderot, three miles north of Gaza, police and medics said.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was in Los Angeles for meetings with Jewish community leaders, ordered the army to continue its lethal four-month offensive in the coastal strip after the death.

“Olmert has been updated and spoke on the phone with the defense minister and instructed him to continue to act against Qassam rocket fire and infrastructure,” Mr. Olmert’s spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, told reporters in Los Angeles.

The death of the Sderot woman was the first fatality caused by one of the crude Qassam rockets in more than a year, and it highlighted the limited effectiveness of a recent weeklong offensive against Palestinian militants holed up in the northern Gaza village of Beit Hanoun.

It also served as a reminder that Palestinian militants, like Hezbollah, are able to paralyze an Israeli city — however small and nonstrategic. Members of Mr. Olmert’s Cabinet said not enough is being done to shut down the rocket attacks.

“The military’s activities aren’t satisfactory,” said Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. The Associated Press quoted him as saying Israel must find a way to halt the attacks, “whether that means a ground operation, an air operation or other special operations.”

Israeli officials have said the army should retake the Philadelphi corridor along Gaza’s border with Egypt to halt weapons smuggling.

Israeli intelligence officers say the corridor has been used by Palestinian militants to bring in anti-tank missiles and material for unmanned attack drones — equipment that will make Israelis “miss” the days of the Qassams, said Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal.

“From day to day, the firing is becoming more precise, more fatal and more dangerous,” wrote Ron Ben-Yishai, a veteran security-affairs commentator writing on a Web site linked with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. “What the government doesn’t do today will be more difficult tomorrow.”

But some analysts said Israel should postpone any major military operation in Gaza to enable the formation of a more moderate Palestinian “unity government” that could improve security in Gaza and possibly restart peace negotiations.

Israel hopes that ongoing talks between Hamas and Fatah will produce a new government that would accept international demands laid out by the so-called Quartet — the European Union, the United Nations, the U.S. and Russia — and possibly offer a prisoner swap for Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the soldier held in captivity in Gaza since June 25.

“This is the best-case scenario,” said Yossi Alpher, editor of a Middle East op-ed Web site, bitterlemons.org. “If all of that happens, then you have a good reason not to launch an offensive.”

Palestinian militants rushed to take credit for the attack while residents of Sderot, located near the Negev Desert, complained that the government has failed to find a remedy for the daily trauma over the past six years.

Frustration with the government has left one community leader with a tinge of cynicism: He suggested that Sderot might have gotten more attention in Israel if residents had fled the city as did residents of northern Israel during the summer’s border war with Hezbollah.

“Maybe we made a mistake” by refusing to flee, said Alon Davidi, a local activist who supports re-establishing an Israeli buffer zone in northern Gaza to push back the attackers. “Maybe this is what we need to do. People don’t appreciate it when people just bite their lips and stay put.”

Other residents say they are wary of proposals to reconquer Gaza. As he awaited tax officials to assess the damage from a Qassam rocket that severely damaged his home and left a small ditch in his yard, Shimon Ganam said Israel’s military operations in Gaza have only triggered more rocket attacks on the city.

“The cease-fire a year and a half ago is the only thing that brought us security,” he said, standing next to a house with an entire wall missing, shrapnel pockmarks, and the roof beams exposed. “Now we’re being held hostage.”


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