Palestinian Rocket Fire Kills Israeli Woman

A critically injured Israeli woman arrives at Barzilai hospital in Ashkelon, Israel after being hit by rocket fire Wednesday Nov. 15, 2006. A Palestinian rocket fired from Gaza exploded on a street in southern Israel on Wednesday, killing one passerby, critically injuring another, and raising the possibility of a new Israeli military offensive against militant rocket squads. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov) (Tsafrir Abayov - Tsafrir Abayov - AP)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 16, 2006

JERUSALEM, Nov. 15 -- An Israeli woman was killed Wednesday in a Palestinian rocket strike on the town of Sderot, prompting some Israeli lawmakers to demand a sharp military response in an effort to end such attacks from the Gaza Strip.

The death of Faina Slotzker, 57, was the first fatality inside Israel in a Palestinian rocket strike since July 2005. It brought competing assertions of responsibility from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements, both of which said the attack on a residential neighborhood was retaliation for Israeli shelling last week that killed 20 Palestinian civilians in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

At least nine rockets landed Wednesday in Israel, including four in the city of Ashkelon north of Gaza. Two Israelis were reported seriously wounded by the rockets: a 17-year-old boy and a 24-year-old man identified as a bodyguard of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who lives in Sderot. Doctors at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon said the man's legs had to be amputated.

Peretz, under mounting pressure to end rocket fire from Gaza that has menaced Israeli border cities for years, pledged that those responsible would "pay a heavy price." Some lawmakers in Jerusalem demanded swift retaliation to deter Palestinians from future strikes.

"Israel will pay a heavier price if it will not operate immediately" in Gaza, Danny Naveh, a member of the Likud Party, said in parliament. Echoing warnings of other lawmakers that Israel's frontline towns were being abandoned by the military, Naveh said, "Any day that passes without a large-scale operation creates the feeling that the fate of Sderot is not that of Tel Aviv," Israel's largest city.

Slotzker was the seventh person killed by Palestinian rocket strikes inside Israel since such attacks began in 2000, at the start of the most recent Palestinian uprising. The majority of the victims lived in Sderot, a town of 20,000 that sits only a few miles east of the Gaza border. In addition, a Bedouin shepherd and his 17-year-old son were killed in March when they detonated an unexploded rocket in a field near Sderot.

Hundreds of the crude rockets, known as Qassams, have been fired into Israel over the last six years. Launched from makeshift tripods, the rockets are highly inaccurate and pack little explosive force, although they have damaged schools, public buildings and homes in border towns.

Israel withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza 14 months ago, but the army has pushed back into the strip several times since June 25, when gunmen, some of whom belonged to Hamas's military wing, captured an Israeli corporal. The army has fired more than 10,000 artillery shells toward Qassam launch sites in Gaza since the withdrawal, leading to what until recently had been a steady decline in the number of rockets landing in Israel.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have signaled that a large operation inside Gaza might be necessary to end the rocket attacks and weapons smuggling through tunnels along the strip's southern border with Egypt.

Briefing foreign journalists earlier this week, an Israeli military official said that "tons" of explosives have entered Gaza through the tunnels since the Israeli withdrawal, including propellants the official said were used to magnify the rockets' blast and range. He singled out Hamas, now running the Palestinian Authority, as "a growing military threat to Israel."

The warning came after weeks of stepped-up Israeli military operations in the strip that failed to stop the attacks and inflamed the passions of residents of Gaza's border towns and the armed groups at war with the Jewish state. An intensive six-day operation inside Beit Hanoun killed more than 60 Palestinians, just over half of them gunmen. One Israeli soldier also was killed.

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