Ministers blast ‘soft response’ to escalation

Six shells hit western Negev despite truce with Gaza terror groups. Minister Aharonovich says retaliation to incessant rocket fire from Strip should have been ‘more painful’
Ilana Curiel 



Six mortars fired by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza at around noon Tuesday landed in open areas within the Negev’s Eshkol Regional Council. One of the shells exploded inside a local community, but there were no reports of injury or damage.



Discussing the newly implemented ceasefire between Israel and armed Palestinian factions in Gaza, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said: “There is an understanding that they stop firing and we stop firing. The minute they stop we have no interest to continue. But if another targeted assassination like last Friday’s is necessary, we will carry it out and enter another round, if need be.”



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“This round (of violence) was too long, unnecessarily so. A million residents (in the south) lived in uncertainty, and we should have intensified our response. We need to learn our lessons so that next time the response will be harder and more painful,” said the minister during a visit to South District Police headquarters in Beersheba.



Education Minister Gideon Saar said during a visit to Beersheba that „as a sovereign state, Israel cannot accept such rounds of violence. In the current round the IDF pounded the terror leaders with force and effectiveness, but we cannot accept a situation whereby the daily routine of the south’s residents is disrupted.



„We will have to strike in such a way that our neighbors (in Gaza) will not want to enter additional rounds of violence,” the minister said, adding that he hoped schools in the south would be reopened on Wednesday.



Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who toured Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, said „it is relatively quiet here. This may be the end of the latest round of violence, which showed that the IDF will strike anyone who attempts to act against us.


„Things can still develop, but Israel will have all the freedom to operate against anyone who plots attacks against our citizens and soldiers,” he warned.



Barak further stated that a fourth Iron Dome battery would be operational as early as next month.



Earlier Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said: “We are still following the situation in the south and we need to see how it develops and whether the (rocket) firing really stops. It’s not over until it’s over. Quiet will be answered with quiet, and fire will be answered with fire.”



Despite the agreed-upon truce, at around 10 am a mortar shell exploded in an open area in the Ashkelon Beach Regional Council. Three additional shells hit Israel overnight and in the early morning hours despite the ceasefire.



Since the targeted assassination of the Popular Resistance Committee chief Zuhir al-Qaisi on Friday, no less than 166 rockets exploded in Israeli territory. The Iron Dome system intercepted another 56 rockets.



Meanwhile, the IDF carried out 37 strikes against targets within the Gaza Strip, including attacks on munitions warehouses and rocket-launching pads.



Despite the relative calm, schools located within a 40-kilometer range of Gaza will remain closed Tuesday.