A Gazan Rocket Reaches 6 Miles Into Israel
GREG MYRE and STEVEN ERLANGER
July 5, 2006
GAZA, Wednesday, July 5 — Defying
Israel's troop advances into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian militants lobbed a rocket unusually deep into Israel on Tuesday, hitting an empty high school in Ashkelon
and further infuriating the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who called it "an escalation of unprecedented gravity."
The Israelis responded early Wednesday with an airstrike that caused extensive damage to the
Interior Ministry in Gaza City.
At least two Palestinians were wounded in the attack, the second
in recent days, Palestinian security officials said.
The renewed violence came after an ultimatum imposed by Palestinians
holding an Israeli soldier passed early Tuesday with no sign that his status had changed.
While Palestinians in Gaza have frequently
fired homemade rockets a short distance into Israel, Ashkelon
is about six miles from the border. Though the outskirts have been hit occasionally, this was the first time the center of
the city was, Israeli officials said.
The militant Hamas organization called the attack a response to
But in a statement on Tuesday evening, Mr. Olmert called it "an
escalation of unprecedented gravity in the campaign of terror waged by Hamas, which leads the Palestinian Authority."
Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Olmert traveled almost to the edge of the Gaza
Strip, making a brief unannounced visit to Sderot, the primary target for Palestinian rockets.
The rocket fire has persisted even though Israeli troops have edged
several hundred yards into northern Gaza over the past few
days to try to halt the attacks, or at least limit them.
Israeli forces are also at the southern end of Gaza, about 25 miles away, where the captured soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, is believed
to be held.
In a speech in Beersheba, in southern
Israel, Mr. Olmert rejected the Palestinian
ultimatum and said: "We will not conduct negotiations with terror elements. We will not allow anyone to think that kidnapping
is an instrument to bring the State of Israel to its knees.
"This is a long war that requires a lot of patience."
The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, who is from Hamas,
urged the militants to keep Corporal Shalit alive and continue indirect negotiations, which have been handled by Egyptian
The three Palestinian factions holding the soldier had set a deadline
of 6 a.m. Tuesday (11 p.m. Monday, Eastern time) for Israel
to begin releasing Palestinian prisoners, threatening unspecified consequences for the soldier, who was captured June 25.
The implication was that they might kill him, but the captors left that unclear.
"Whether he will be killed or not killed, we will not disclose any
information," said Abu al-Muthana, a spokesman for the Army of Islam, one of the factions.
But he also said: "We do not kill captives. Our Islam requires that
we treat captives well and fairly."
Yet a young Israeli settler in the West Bank,
Eliyahu Asheri, 18, who was also captured last week, was executed with a single bullet to the head and his body was found
in a shallow grave. The Popular Resistance Committees, another of the groups holding Corporal Shalit, took responsibility
for killing Mr. Asheri.
In addition to the incursions into Gaza,
Israeli forces surrounded a Palestinian police building on Tuesday in Ramallah, in the West Bank,
and arrested three militants affiliated with the Fatah movement, who were also believed to be involved in the abduction and
killing of Mr. Asheri. The Israelis said a fourth militant had been arrested earlier.
After the 6 a.m. deadline expired, the Israeli interior minister,
Roni Bar-On, warned Hamas on Israel Radio that if the soldier was harmed or killed, "The sky will fall on them."
has suggested that it may kill leaders of Hamas if Corporal Shalit is not freed. Hamas, a radical Islamic faction considered
by Israeli to be a terrorist organization, is in charge of the Palestinian Authority, and its military wing is the third faction
involved in the capture of the soldier.
Osama al-Muzaini, a Hamas political leader, said the three militant
groups were no longer talking with Egyptian mediators.
But Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian official, said the Egyptian
government was still involved in the negotiations, though he added, "Israeli violations on the ground lessen chances of reaching
a final compromise."
On Tuesday morning, Israeli armored vehicles moved into another
part of northern Gaza, near Beit Lahiya. A day earlier, Israeli
forces moved into the northeast corner of Gaza, near Beit
Hanun, a farming community. They have advanced only several hundred meters and have not entered heavily populated areas.