|Two Kassam rockets were fired at the western Negev early Sunday morning, causing no injuries - but shortly before 7:45 AM, another volley hit Sderot, and this time the people were not as fortunate. Shrapnel from one of the deadly projectiles hit one person, causing him moderate-to-serious injuries. A Magen David Adom emergency health crew treated him on the spot, but he was then taken by ambulance to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. Two other people were also taken to the hospital to be treated for shock.
This past Wednesday morning, Fatima Slutzker - a Moslem woman, mother of two, who immigrated to Israel with her Jewish husband and their two sons several years ago - was killed by a Kassam rocket. In the same attack, Maor Peretz, a guard at the home of Sderot resident Defense Minister Amir Peretz, was seriously injured, and both of his legs were subsequently amputated below the knee. On Thursday, a 17-year-old youth was seriously wounded by rocket shrapnel in his stomach.
It was later reported that yet another Kassam was fired, landing in the Eshkol region of the western Negev around 8:15 AM and causing no injuries.
The Cabinet ministers will discuss various options to the ongoing rocket strikes at Israel's civilian population. Though several ministers have been quoted as saying that 'no other country would tolerate such a situation' and the like, the Cabinet is not expected to approve a wide-scale military operation in Gaza.
An IDF strike at a vehicle in Gaza this afternoon reportedly killed one terrorist. The incident was an instance of the practice known as "targeted killing of terrorists."
During the night, the IDF was forced to cancel a planned aerial strike on a suspected terrorist target in Gaza when hundreds of Arab residents gathered around the building. The IDF, as is customary, had given notice to the families living in the building of the impending strike, but instead of leaving the area, the residents notified their friends, who came to the site. The villagers chanted anti-American and Israeli slogans indicating they would rather die rather than surrender to Israel.
The targeted building was the home of Popular Resistance Committees commander Mohammad al-Baroud, who resides in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza.
The terrorists plan to make this a regular practice. "We call upon all the fighters to reject evacuating their houses," said Abu Abir, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, quoted by Reuters, "and we urge our people to rush into the threatened houses and make human shields."
The General Security Service (Shabak) announced today that 1,004 Kassam rockets have been fired at the Sderot region in the course of this year. In 2005, the number of rockets was 306, and in the year before that, 159 rockets were fired at Sderot and environs.
Crowds Force Israel to Cancel Airstrikes
By IBRAHIM BARZAK
The Associated Press
Sunday, November 19, 2006; 6:53 AM
BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- Israel called off airstrikes on the homes of two militants Sunday after hundreds of Palestinians crowded around the buildings forming human shields, a new tactic that forced the Israelis to re-evaluate their aerial campaign in the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinians began to gather around the homes shortly after the Israeli army ordered occupants out of them. Israel routinely issues such warnings before attacking buildings that it says are used to store weapons, saying it wants to avoid casualties.
Instead of leaving the buildings, the homeowners remained inside and were quickly joined by crowds of supporters who gathered on balconies, rooftops and in the streets outside.
"Death to Israel. Death to America," the crowds chanted. Local mosques and Palestinian TV and radio stations also mobilized supporters. It was the first time Palestinians have formed human shields to prevent an airstrike.
The first incident occurred just before midnight at the home of Mohammedweil Baroud, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees, in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Baroud oversees rocket attacks on Israel. About two hours later, Mohammed Nawajeh, a Hamas leader in northern Gaza, got a similar call.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas arrived at Baroud's home early Sunday to support the protest.
"We are so proud of this national stand. It's the first step toward protecting our homes, the homes of our children," Haniyeh said as he made his way to the roof of the house, decorated during the night with black and green flags symbolizing the Popular Resistance Committees and Hamas groups.
"This strategy was decided by our people. This strategy was decided by our leaders who were here from all the factions ... and so long as this strategy is in the interest of our people we support this strategy," Haniyeh said.
People loyal to various Palestinian factions _ Hamas, Fatah and the Popular Resistance Committees _ which have often fought against each other, answered calls for help, crossing party and ideological lines to fend off the Israeli airstrikes.
"These Palestinian masses have come to defeat the Zionist swords which are targeting our heads and the heads of our fighters," said Nizar Rayan, a Hamas leader in northern Gaza. "Look we are defeating them," he added, pointing to Israeli warplanes overhead in the night sky.
Redwan Abu Daya, a 16-year-old Fatah supporter who lives near Baroud, said he was ignoring party lines because he felt a duty to protect his neighbor's homes from bombardment.
"I came here because everyone should be here," Abu Daya said, while the nearby mosque called on loudspeakers for people to gather at Baroud's home.
The army said it called off the nighttime airstrikes because of the large crowds, but vowed to continue to fight the "terrorist infrastructure." It condemned "the cynical exploitation by the terrorists of uninvolved people as human shields." At midday Sunday, crowds continued to protect the targeted homes.
Also Sunday, Hamas militants in Gaza fired two rockets at the Israeli town of Sderot, moderately wounding one person. Last week, a Sderot woman was killed in a rocket attack.
Hamas and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian factions, have been at loggerheads since the Islamic Hamas group ousted the long-ruling Fatah from power in January parliamentary elections. The tensions have periodically spilled over into violence, killing nearly 30 Palestinians.
But in recent weeks, the sides have been trying to put aside their differences and form a unity government. President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, a moderate who was elected separately last year, hopes the deal will get international sanctions imposed on the current Hamas-led government lifted.
The sanctions have made it largely impossible for Hamas to pay its 165,000 state employees, causing widespread hardship in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Haniyeh acknowledged on Sunday that despite progress in the talks, there still are no guarantees the new government would persuade the international community to lift the sanctions.
"There are letters, there are messages, there are talks from here and from there but ... we want to document these letters, we want to feel more secure, to be more comfortable that they are going to be committed to these guarantees and lift the siege," Haniyeh told reporters after visiting the Baroud home.
Israel and Western donor nations have demanded that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist or accept past peace deals. Hamas rejects the conditions. The emerging coalition government is expected to take a vague position toward Israel in hopes that the West will lift the sanctions.
Negotiators have agreed on a new prime minister _ U.S.-educated Mohammed Shabir, the former president of the Islamic University in Gaza City _ but negotiators say differences remain over the distribution of Cabinet portfolios. The treasury and the Interior Ministry, with its control over the security forces, are likely to be hotly contested.
In a sign of progress, Abbas held his first meeting with Shabir on Saturday. The current prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, also joined the talks.
Aides said the talks were informal and no decisions were made. Haniyeh would have to resign to clear the way for Shabir to take office if the sides reach an agreement.