Two Qassam rockets land in western Negev, no injuries

Two Qassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip on Monday, landing in the western Negev. No injuries were caused by the rockets. One Qassam landed in a playground in a kibbutz in the area, and another south of the south of the the city of Sderot. Israel Defense Forces troops fired artilery strikes on the rocket launchers in response. A spokesman from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, military wing of the ruling Fatah, said on Monday that the group has extended the range of its Qassam rockets to 25 kilometers. The announcement came after Popular Resistance Committees sources said Sunday that they have doubled the range of their Qassams to 15 kilometers. A spokesman for the group told Israel Radio that if Israel goes ahead with a plan to enforce a new off-limits zone in the northern Gaza Strip, the PRC will operate out of this zone just as Hezbollah operates out of the Shaba Farms in the north of the country. The announcement was made after a senior IDF officer told Haaretz over the weekend that Islamic Jihad has been upgrading their Qassam rockets, and the terrorist group’s shelling barrages in recent weeks have been much more precise in finding their targets than in the past. The range of rockets typically fired into Israel does not reach more than eight or nine kilometers. This range is enough to reach Ashkelon when fired from former settlements in the northern Gaza Strip. The defense establishment announced over the weekend that the IDF will enforce a new off-limits zone in the northern Gaza Strip in order to prevent rockets from reaching Israel. An extension of the rockets’ range will allow militant groups to circumvent this no-go zone. To counter Qassam attacks, Transport Minister Meir Sheetrit of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party has proposed firing Israeli-made Qassam rockets at the Gaza Strip in order to deter Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from firing Qassams at Israeli targets. „In the present situation we are dragged into responding in banal and routine means of firing artillery at the outskirts of towns in order to make residents leave their homes and pressure authorities to stop the firing of Qassams,” Sheetrit told Israel Radio on Monday. „The problem is that this method does not achieve the desired result and … if one shell hits a home the number of casualties may be very large and the entire world would turn against us.” According to Sheetrit, „For a relatively small amount of money we can manufacture small missiles that make a lot of noise, very little damage and when they fall on someone’s head they can kill him, exactly like the Qassams do.” Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday ordered senior defense officials to use all means at their disposal to stop the launching of Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip at communities in the Negev. „I issued an unequivocal directive to the heads of the defense establishment that there are no restrictions on the means used to strike at the terrorists, members of the terror organizations, their equipment and their hideouts,” Sharon said at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the closure of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank will continue until after the eight-day Hanukkah festival that began last night. He also ordered increased security during the holiday due to the large number of warnings about the intention of Islamic Jihad and other organizations to carry out attacks within Israel. Mofaz said he has directed the Israel Defense Forces to pursue a policy of intensive operations and targeted killings of Palestinian militants following last week’s Qassam rocket fire. He said the targeted killings have proved to be effective. He also said the government intends to make available a further NIS 125 million to complete a plan to protect Israeli towns in the so-called „Gaza envelope” from Qassam rockets, noting that the government had approved a comprehensive, NIS 210 million plan a few months ago but that only NIS 85 million had been disbursed.