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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Qassam rocket lands in western Negev despite Gaza cease-fire

Last update - 20:14 28/11/2006

Qassam rocket lands in western Negev despite Gaza cease-fire

By Amos Harel and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondents

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday fired a Qassam rocket into
Israel, despite a three-day ceasefire under effect.

The rocket landed in an open field north of the western Negev town of Sderot
Tuesday evening, causing no injuries or damages.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz earlier Tuesday warned the Palestinian Authority
to enforce the truce, saying that failure to do so could force a "fierce"
Israeli response.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Dan Halutz criticized the decision-making
process of the political echelon on Tuesday, saying that the army was only
partly involved in the decision to declare a cease-fire with the Palestinians.

The IDF altered its rules of engagement along the Israel-Gaza border, after
two Qassam rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip on Monday. The new
rules allow troops to fire should they positively identify Palestinian
militants preparing to launch a rocket.

The rockets, the first in over 24 hours, were fired Monday afternoon. They did
not cause any injuries. One landed in the Palestinian Authority, and the
second hit an open area in the western Negev.

There were no Qassams fired Tuesday morning.

Halutz, speaking later in the day to a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs
and Defense Committee, said that the Palestinians want the ceasefire to work
only for them, and that weapons were still being shuttled to Lebanon.

Committee member Danny Naveh (Likud) said of Halutz' statements regarding
decision-making, "this is very serious, because the [truce] agreement includes
preventing Hamas from gaining new weapons."

"This is the result of disagreements between the prime minister and the
minister of defense, who doesn't believe in the chief of staff," Naveh

Knesset member Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that the Halutz overview proved
that the ceasefire is not dealing with the main problem of "building a Hamas
army in the Gaza strip."

According to Steinitz, "there is an Israeli-Palestinian deal underway, which
means that in exchange for a short break in the attacks on Sderot, Israel is
giving a green light to the Palestinians to continue smuggling weapons and
building up their missile threat from Gaza."

Ran Cohen (Meretz) said that "the IDF can't take the attitude of avoiding
responsibility, and it must protect the fragile ceasefire." He demanded that
the chief of staff remove artillery from the Gaza Strip and not risk having to
take responsibility for innocents being harmed.

Silvan Shalom (Likud) said Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz are
only trying to preserve their seats in the Knesset, and that the ceasefire,
along with the prime minister's speech, did not contribute to Israel's

According to Shalom, the break in the fighting is allowing Hamas to organize
and get new weapons, and Olmert to try and win back the public's faith.

Peretz warns PA to enforce truce

"We want to give the cease-fire a chance," Peretz said Tuesday morning, as he
toured the separation barrier in the Jerusalem area. However, he added, "It's
obvious that there are extremist factions who are interested in dragging the
region back to escalation. If the situation continues, we will have to
consider how to respond, and to respond with severity."

Referring to the Palestinian Authority, he said "Those whom commit to the
cease-fire must know to enforce it as well, and any violation will receive a
fierce response."

Peretz stressed that the cease-fire does not apply to the West Bank, and that
the IDF fight against armed groups there would continue.

"Our basic understandings are that the cease-fire is on the Gaza Strip alone.
When we reach some form of understanding on stopping the terrorist activity
that is taking place here, we will consider how IDF forces will be used."

Militants identifying themselves as members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades,
the military wing of Fatah, took responsibility for the Qassam fire Monday.
Security sources said the group appears to be an independent offshoot of
Fatah, and that the PA's leadership and security forces are making a
noticeable effort to prevent rocket fire.

When the cease-fire first took effect, Sunday morning, forces were strictly
forbidden from firing. Thus when seven militants were seen launching a rocket
at Sderot, the IDF held its fire. But as it became evident that the rocket
fire was continuing, albeit on a smaller scale, the IDF changed the rules in
order to prevent Israeli civilians from being harmed.

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