IDF air strike on car in Gaza kills top Islamic Jihad militant

An Israel Defense Forces air strike on a car in the Gaza Strip on Sunday killed two Palestinians and wounded four, against the backdrop of Israeli threats to target militants after a series of rocket attacks on Israel. The attack hit a Mercedes carrying Mohammed Khalil, Islamic Jihad’s top militant leader in southern Gaza, according to a spokesman for the group known as Abu Abdullah. „We confirm the military carried out an air strike in Gaza,” an IDF spokeswoman said in Jerusalem. She gave no other details. The IDF also test-fired batteries of artillery into the Gaza Strip throughout the day on Sunday, as Sharon, responding to one of the heaviest Hamas Qassam barrages on Sderot in memory, said he had ordered Israeli forces to use „all means” to bring the attacks to an end. IDF nabs 207 in West Bank arrest raids Sunday’s artillery fire marked the first time that the heavy guns, which had been moved to the Gaza border in response to the Qassam launchings, were fired at open areas in Gaza. Military officials said the fire was strictly to calibrate the weapons in order to adjust their aim. But Labor cabinet minister Yitzhak Herzog said that he did „not at all rule out the possibility that IDF cannons will shell Gaza.” He said that following the disengagement from Gaza and the evacuation of settlements, it was now up to the Palestinians to abide by their commitments. Late Saturday and early Sunday, IDF forces launched the widest arrest raids in months, following a sudden flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip. They arrested 207 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank, including senior West Bank Hamas officials Sheikh Hassan Youssef, Sheikh Fathi al Karawi, and Mohammed Ghazal. „I have ordered that there be no limitation regarding use of all means to hit the terrorists, the men of the terror organizations, to hit them, their equipment, and their hideouts,” Sharon declared at the outset of the cabinet’s weekly session Sunday. „The order is unequivocal.” The prime minister said Israel had embarked on „an ongoing operation, whose aim is to hit terrorists, and not to relent from this. All means are fit for this. Apart from our usual practice of refraining from harming civilians, all means should be used to halt this phenomenon.” The arrest sweep was Israel’s biggest crackdown since Sharon and Abbas agreed to a cease-fire in February that paved the way for Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza this month. The overnight raids, carried out in the West Bank cities of Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, Qalqilyah, Ramallah, Tul Karm and Nablus, came as the security cabinet late Saturday approved the use of artillery fire against the Qassam launchers in the Gaza Strip in response to the barrage of rockets on Sderot over the weekend, as well as the options of targeted assassinations against Hamas members and the continuation of aerial assaults. The cabinet also ratified Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s proposal that the IDF be instructed to create buffer zones within the Gaza Strip in areas near the border, in order to move the rocket launchers away from Israeli communities. However, a number of cabinet ministers from Sharon’s Likud party said Sunday that Israel should have reacted more harshly to the Hamas Qassam barrages. „We must attack targets there without mercy, because this is truly an important test, said Health Minister Danny Naveh. „The Palestinians think we have been weakened, and that the withdrawal from Gaza was a result of violence and terrorism. We left Gaza, and terrorism has continued. If there is no harsh, clear, firm response, if there are no actions now and just words, this will spell grief for many, many years to come. The chain-reviolence followed a raid early Friday, when police officers from an elite anti-terror unit entered a village near Tul Karm in search of Jihad activists suspected of being involved in the suicide bombings at Tel Aviv’s Stage club and Hasharon shopping center. The wanted men fled into an open area outside the village, where the police shot two of them dead. The third was found and killed nearby. Islamic Jihad took responsibility for a subsequent Friday Qassam attack, calling it retaliation for the killing of the three. Violence escalated later on Friday, in response to an explosion at a mass Hamas rally in Gaza on Friday, in which two pick-up trucks carrying armed men as well as explosive materials blew up. Sixteen were killed in the blast, including eight civilians and four children, and 80 injured. Hamas gunners later fired 40 Qassam rockets into the Negev town of Sderot, wounding six Israelis, one moderately and the others lightly, the army said. The salvos prompted three IAF air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday. The air strikes killed four members of Hamas and injured nine other people in a return to a policy of assassinating suspected terrorist commanders. BPI-info