JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday promised to step up attacks on the Hamas militant group after a Palestinian rocket attack killed an Israeli man in southern Israel. “No one is immune,” Olmert declared.
Sunday’s bloodshed signaled there was no end in sight for the latest round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. A 10-day campaign of Israeli airstrikes aimed at halting rocket attacks has killed nearly 50 Palestinians, most of them militants. But the rocket fire has continued.
Another rocket slammed into the southern Israeli town of Sderot early Sunday, critically wounding a 36-year-old man with shrapnel, medical officials said. The man later died of his wounds at a hospital, Israeli media said. It was the second fatal rocket attack in less than a week.
‘There will be no limit’
Olmert told the weekly meeting of his Cabinet Sunday that he had instructed the army to do whatever it takes to halt the rocket fire.
“There will be no limit in acting against the terror groups and against those who are responsible for the terror. No one is immune,” Olmert said.
Israel has so far avoided attacks on Hamas’ political leaders — a tactic it used at the height of Israeli-Palestinian fighting several years ago. It was not immediately clear whether Olmert’s comments Sunday were aimed at the Hamas leadership. The group is now the senior partner in the Palestinian coalition government.
Olmert said there would be no time limit for the army, and that outside pressure would not stop Israel from acting.
At the same time, he acknowledged there is no quick solution for the crude “Qassam” rockets, which have baffled Israel’s high-tech army for years.
“We don’t want to create unrealistic expectations that it’s possible to stop the Qassams totally,” Olmert said. “These launchings are liable to continue, people are liable to continue to be exposed.” He promised maximum efforts to protect and aid the residents of Sderot and other affected communities.
Hamas warns Israel
Sunday’s rocket attack came a day after Hamas vowed revenge for a barrage of Israeli airstrikes that killed five militants in Gaza. Hamas rejected calls for a truce and promised more attacks.
It also warned that the Israeli air assault would jeopardize the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier nabbed last June by Hamas-linked militants. Shalit has not been heard from or seen since his capture.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate from the rival Fatah faction, has tried in recent days to revive a cease-fire with Israel.
Under his plan, Gaza militants would halt rocket fire for a month to allow for negotiations on a more comprehensive truce that would include the West Bank. Abbas has long been a vocal critic of Palestinian rocket attacks, but been powerless to stop the rocket fire
Hamas had said it would consider Abbas’ plan. But after Saturday’s airstrikes, Hamas called on its fighters to “direct painful strikes at the Zionist enemy.” Hamas “will not offer a free truce to the Zionist occupation,” the group said.
“If there is an end to the attacks, we can talk about a truce,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing.
Michael C. Williams, the new U.N. envoy to the Middle East, met Saturday with Abbas in Gaza.
“I’m very troubled by the level of violence here,” he said. “I think the U.N., the international community in general, have been very concerned about the level of intra-Palestinian violence, but also by the Israeli attacks which I know have caused civilian deaths, considerable numbers.”
Israel has launched dozens of targeted missile strikes over the past 10 days to halt Hamas rocket fire at southern Israeli border towns. The army said it carried out three more airstrikes overnight Sunday, targeting Hamas targets in northern Gaza. There were no reports of injuries.
In all, the Israeli campaign has killed 48 Palestinians, most of them militants, and damaged many Hamas installations. The army also has arrested more than 30 Hamas officials in the West Bank, including two Cabinet ministers.
Despite the Israeli crackdown, Palestinian militants have fired almost 250 rockets have landed in Israel since May 15, according to the army.
Shooting in east Jerusalem
There also was a rare incident of violence in east Jerusalem late Saturday when two Palestinian gunmen opened fire at an Israeli security patrol near Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.
Israeli border police at the scene fired at the attackers, killing both of them. A Palestinian bystander also was killed in the exchange of fire, witnesses and medical officials said.
Israeli medical officials said the two Israeli guards were in moderate condition Sunday.
An offshoot of the violent Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, which is affiliated with Fatah, claimed responsibility for the shooting, according to the Palestinian news Web site Maan.