The current escalation of violence across the Israel-Gaza border may continue for at least several more days, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Saturday. “This round in Gaza is far from being over,” he cautioned.
Barak also said there were no guarantees that a planned terrorist attack, which he said was being orchestrated by Gaza terrorist leader Zuhair al-Qaissi, had been thwarted, even though al-Qaissi was blown up by the Israel air Froce in his car in Gaza City on Friday — the air strike that sparked the ongoing flare-up.
Al-Qaissi is said by Israel to have orchestrated last August’s infiltration attack into Israel north of Eilat, in which terror cells killed eight Israelis. Military sources said Friday that the decision to kill al-Qaissi was prompted by intelligence information that he was about to orchestrate another such attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent the day in the bombarded South, where he discussed the security of the Negev with municipal leaders in the region, urging them to be strong in the face of the barrage of rockets.
Netanyahu stated that Israel would continue to harm those who plan to hurt Israeli civilians, adding that the IDF was striving to improve the capabilities of the Iron Dome missile defense system – which “proved its efficiency” on Saturday by successfully intercepting over two dozen rockets. He said Israel would improve its defenses further by purchasing more Iron Dome batteries.
In New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the rocket attacks and stressed Israel’s right to defend itself. Kadima opposition leader Tzipi Livni, who was meeting Clinton at an event organized by Newsweek magazine for the world’s most influential women, urged the international community to condemn the rocket attacks. Livni also spoke of Israel’s obligation to thwart terrorists who were planning attacks on Israeli targets.
France also issued a statement of condemnation of the rocket fire, and said it would send a senior Israel-based diplomat to the South on Sunday in a show of solidarity.
Barak, who on Saturday visited the site of Iron Dome’s radar component along with IAF chief Ido Nehushtan, echoed the prime minister’s sentiments concerning the importance of Israel’s security. “We won’t allow anyone to harm civilians,” said Barak, adding that anyone who tried to do so would “pay a heavy price.”
Barak also praised Iron Dome’s success rate, which he estimated at 90 percent following Saturday’s interceptions.
Nehushtan, meanwhile, stated that the IAF was currently concentrating on surgical attacks on terrorist sites in Gaza, as well as improving the operational capabilities of Iron Dome.
Also in reaction to Saturday’s attacks, Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he hoped “Hamas, which is responsible for what goes on in Gaza, will quickly regain its composure and stop this fire.” He stated that Hamas would pay a heavy price for failing to halt the escalation, just as it had in the past.
Homeland Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i, meanwhile, said Saturday that while the IDF was not intending to carry out another military operation in the Gaza Strip, it was not yet clear how the current round of violence would end. He added that it was “necessary” to target the PRC — the Popular Resistance Committees, whose chief Zuhair al-Qaissi was blown up in his car by an Israeli air strike on Friday — which had been planning an attack against Israel.