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Gaza rockets: Israelis demand end to militant attacks

An Israeli defense official said 'targeted assassinations' may be used to respond to the increase in attacks.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 12, 2008

Sderot supporters in Tel Aviv Monday rallied for strong Israeli reaction.

Joshua Mitnick

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JERUSALEM and TEL AVIV

If rockets keep raining down on Sderot, then the people of Sderot say they are going to start raining down on the metropolitan centers of Israel – from public squares in Jerusalem to the boulevards of Tel Aviv – to push Ehud Olmert's government to ramp up action against Palestinian militants in Gaza.

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Sderot residents and sympathizers have already started taking their campaign to the streets in a bigger way than ever before and putting Israeli leaders on the spot about what their plans are to stop the rockets from the nearby coastal strip.

Following an increase in the number of Qassam rockets launched over the Gaza-Israel border in recent days – several of which have caused serious injuries, including a young boy losing his leg – protesters are growing more vocal and Israeli politicians are vowing to respond. Defense Minister Ehud Barak says he is directing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to prepare for a large-scale offensive in Gaza, he told the parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday.

"IDF operations are continuing day and night and will even be expanded," Barak said, according to a statement. He acknowledged that while Israel had no formula for putting a quick and immediate end to the rocket fire, it would find a way to solve the problem.

"It will not stop in two days or even in two weeks, but the army will stop the phenomenon," he said.

He indicated that Israel would intensify strikes and ground incursions into Gaza to try to route out militants. Already, Israel has been carrying out regular incursions and airstrikes in the area of Gaza near the Israeli border, killing at least 200 Palestinians in recent months.

Now, with Israeli defense officials suggesting they may start carrying out "targeted assassinations" of political leaders in Gaza, many Hamas officials have gone into hiding. According to the Associated Press, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has not been seen in public for several days.

The intensity of the rocket fire into Israel appears to have increased in the aftermath of last month's break in the wall between Gaza and Egypt, carried out by Hamas forces. Israel has put various resources it supplies to Gaza under a blockade in order to weaken Hamas, and as a result, causing shortages for Gaza residents.

None of which seems to present a particularly optimistic picture of the direction of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, despite recent efforts on the part of moderates on both sides and encouragement from the international community, especially from the Bush administration.

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