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HAMAS IN ISRAELI CROSSHAIRS

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh: 'We Make No Distinction Between Political & Military Leaders of Hamas'

'When Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh , the Palestinian Prime Minister, Calls For Israel's Destruction, He Is A Terrorist Dressed In A Suit'

After Israeli Woman Was Killed By Qassam Rocket, Israel To Step Up Targeted Killing & Other Counter-Terror Strikes

Palestinian Terror Attack on Sderot

How will Israel react after a Qassam rocket from Gaza killed an Israeli woman driving in Sderot on Monday night? IsraCast says subsequent statements by Israeli officials indicate that Hamas political leaders may be put on Israel's hit list in addition to those who actually send the launchers of the rockets. What is certain is that targeted killings and other counter-terror operation will be escalated now but a major ground operation into the Gaza Strip is not in the offing.

A typical night in the Israeli town of Sderot just a couple of miles from the Gaza Strip. Without warning, another barrage of Qassam rockets crashes into the Town's crowded shopping district. One of the rockets scores a direct hit on a moving car demolishing the vehicle. Thirty two year old Shirel Feldman became the first fatality in the current escalation of Qassam rocketing. This time the 'Red Dawn' early warning system failed to identify the rocket and give Shirel and others fifteen seconds to rush to the nearest bomb shelter. One other civilian was seriously wounded - several others were lightly injured by flying shrapnel; those not hit suffered trauma. Eye-witnesses said: 'It was terrifying, we were all in a state of shock. It was hard to even breath or move after the explosion. We were trembling with fear as the ambulances rushed to the scene'. One other civilian was seriously injured; others were hit by flying shrapnel while more suffered from shock.

A short time later, residents took to the streets demonstrating against the government and calling on Prime Minister Olmert to resign. Olmert paid a midnight visit to Sderot saying: 'There is no quick fix to the Qassam problem'. By chance, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was visiting Sderot accompanied by E.U. Middle East envoy Javier Solana.

Livni said: 'The cease-fire was an illusion - Hamas exploited the so-called quiet, to build its strength by smuggling in weapons from Egypt. The Qassam rocket problem has made life intolerable in Sderot and the government must find the answer. Our duty is to strike the launchers of Qassams and to hit Hamas'.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh

It was inevitable, that the latest indiscriminate rocketing of the town would eventually kill someone. Miraculously,Shirel Feldman was the first fatality. On Monday alone, the terrorists launched some 25 rockets at Sderot. At Sunday's cabinet meeting, the government decided to step up counter- terror operations with pin point attacks on the Qassam infrastructure as well as resuming the targeted killing of terrorist chiefs. However, no decision was taken to launch a major ground operation into Gaza to drive the Qassams out of range of Sderot. But on this score, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has defended what he calls 'the balanced and exact approach of pinpoint counter-terror strikes'. He believes these stepped up operations will pay off. Despite Monday night's deadly rocketing, the terrorists have fewer Qassams and the IDF has made it more dangerous for the launch teams. The IDF ground presence inside parts of the Gaza Strip has also forced the terrorists to launch from a greater distance reducing their range inside Israel. In an interview with Israel Radio, Sneh added : 'The terrorist chiefs also know they are now in danger of death. It's easy enough for them to pay $5 to a seventeen year old kid and send him to be killed while launching a Qassam into Israel. But it's a different story when it comes to the leaders themselves. They are scared and have had to go underground always moving from place to place knowing we are trying to track them down '.

What about Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas was he also on Israel's hit list now? Deputy Defense Minister Sneh replied: 'Everything is open. We do not accept an artificial distinction between the political and military leaders of Hamas. What do Hamas political leaders do? They give the green light and inspiration to those who launch the rockets. When a Hamas political leader calls for the destruction of Israel, he is a terrorist in a suit. No one in the Hamas leadership and command circle is immune from attack'.

In a speech to Hamas members, Haniyeh has just declared: 'Each and every one of you is a special project in our Jihad against Israel!'

Sneh ruled out a Hamas proposal carried by the Haaretz newspaper. Hamas was reportedly ready to halt the rocketing of Sderot if Israel called off its counter-terror operations on the West Bank. IsraCast notes this would obviously enable Hamas to regroup unhindered in the same manner Hamas exploited the recent 'cease-fire' to launch its current round of rocketing. The West Bank operations continually intercept potential suicide bombings and have prevented the Qassam rocketing of Israel from that region. Not all Israelis agree. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevi and Meretz Knesset Member Ran Cohen contend that Israel should be ready to negotiate any proposal with Hamas.

David Essing

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