Israel steps up attacks on Gaza military bases

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The Independent Online

Israel, frustrated at its failure to stop Palestinian militants firing home-made rockets into the Western Negev, has stepped up its air and artillery offensive on launch sites, training camps and command centres in the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian policeman was killed yesterday when a shell hit his car as he was evacuating colleagues from a post in the border town of Beit Hanoun. He brought the number of dead to 15 since Friday. They included the three-year-old son of Iyad Abu Alinin, said to have built many of the Qassam rockets, who was killed with four comrades on Friday night while driving away from a training base in Rafah.

The Israeli army said it had fired more than 750 shells into the Strip over the weekend. At least one Qassam was launched into Israel yesterday. On the West Bank, troops shot dead a wanted gunman near Bethlehem and arrested a youth trying to smuggle three explosive devices through a checkpoint.

In Gaza, Islamic Jihad vowed to escalate its counter-attacks "by all possible means." Abu Abdullah, a spokesman for the group, which was responsible for many of the 40 rockets launched into Israel last week, said: "There will be no truce with the occupation while there is open war."

Ehud Olmert, IsraelÕs Prime Minister-designate, has given the army a free hand. "Whoever fires Qassam rockets, whoever is engaged in terrorist activity, is a legitimate target and will be dealt with without hesitation," he told his ministers yesterday.

The inner security cabinet decided to continue freezing the payment of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, which admitted yesterday that it was unable to pay the wages of 140,000 public employees. The United States and the European Union last week suspended aid to the Hamas government, which refuses to recognise Israel or renounce violence.