Israel pledges revenge as rocket attack kills woman

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The Independent Online

Israel's Defence minister Amir Peretz yesterday pledged that Palestinian militants would pay a "heavy price" after a woman was killed and one of his own bodyguards severely wounded in a Qassam rocket attack launched from Gaza.

The woman, Fa'ina Slotzker, 57 became the ninth Israeli to be killed by a Qassam since 2000 when the rocket landed on a walkway less than 150 yards from Mr Peretz's home in a residential area of the border town of Sderot. A 17 year old male youth was seriously injured last night in a later rocket attack on the town centre.

One witness said Mrs Slotzker, an immigrant from the Caucasus who has a son and a daughter in Israel, had been waiting for her husband after crossing a road and stepping onto the brick path leading towards the street where Mr Peretz lives.

Hamas's military wing and Islamic Jihad both claimed responsibility for the 8 am attack which witnesses said had severed the legs of 24-year old Maor Peretz, a member of the defence minister's security detail but not one of his relatives.

The rocket, one of around ten to have been fired on and around the town since Monday evening, appeared to underline the difficulties Israel faces in seeking to eliminate the Qassam attacks by military means alone.

A further four longer range Qassams were fired at the coastal city of Ashkelon yesterday afternoon.

Major General Uriel Bar-lev, Southern District police commander said that while a majority of the rockets had been fired from Jabalya, the lethal rocket was one of three or four to have been fired from a launching site 7,900 metres away in the south of Beit Hanoun, the Gaza town closest to Sderot.

The shelling attack which killed 19 Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun last Wednesday and brought calls for revenge by militants, followed an intensive six day armoured incursion by Israeli forces in the town seeking to curb Qassam attacks. That operation resulted in widespread destruction and the deaths of more than 50 Palestinians, mostly members of the armed factions but including civilians.

But Avi Dichter, the Public Security minister, told Army Radio that Israel must expand its operations to bring about "a complete halt" to rocket fire, "whether that means a ground operation, or an air operation or other special operations."

Eli Moyal, the mayor of Sderot, who said that the dead woman had not been Jewish, declared: "We have to convince the Palestinians not to shoot. The Israeli government has to make clear that shooting doesn't pay. There has to be a reaction and that means using the Army."

Shaul Ziegler, 67, a road haulier and neighbour of Mr Peretz, said: "For six years there has been not a day when we have not asked what is the solution."

Mr Ziegler, whose front room window was smashed by the shock of the blast more than 100 metres away, added: "The Army should go into Beit Hanoun and demolish all the houses so there are no areas to shoot from. That is the only possible solution."

But Orly Saroussi, 26, a communications student at the local Sappir College said that there should be a ceasefire by both Israelis and Palestinians: "We can't go on like this. I don't know if we should bring the leaders of the two sides together to talk but we need to stop all this first. This is just a chain of destruction."

Recognising that many Sderot residents did not agree with her, she nevertheless said that she knew no-one in the town who had thought of the shelling which killed 17 members of the same family in Beit Hanoun last week "that they deserved it." She added: "Children are being killed, children are hurting. We can't live like this."

Major General Bar-lev said that the fatal rocket bore the "fingerprints" of Islamic Jihad and that the armed factions had recently had "outside help" in extending the range and effectiveness of the Qassams and importing large amounts of explosives through southern Gaza. He said they were becoming capable of firing shrapnel and ball bearings over a larger area.

He declined to be drawn on what methods should be used to stop the rockets but added: "It is a good question to ask someone like Blair what he would do if this was happening in London."