The government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday ordered the Israeli military to draw up and execute a plan to bring a complete halt to Palestinian rocket attacks against communities across southwestern Israel.
Israel's security cabinet held an emergency session on Wednesday to discuss solutions to the escalating rocket and missile attacks being launched on a daily basis by terrorists operating out of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, whose home in the southern port city of Ashkelon was nearly hit by a Palestinian missile at the weekend, urged the government to allow the army to formulate a plan of action free of political hamstringing. The other ministers agreed.
No details were released regarding the extent of the measures the government is prepared to allow the army to take, but earlier in the week, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni indicated the government was opening up to the possibility that Israel may have to reoccupy the Gaza Strip.
"We cannot afford this kind of extreme Islamic state controlled by Hamas," Livni was cited by a Foreign Ministry press release as telling a group of foreign diplomats on Monday. She continued by noting that Israel evacuated Gaza "not in order to come back, but we might find ourselves in a situation where we have no choice."
As the security cabinet was meeting on Wednesday, Gaza Arabs fired two more Katyusha missiles at Ashkelon, and at least three locally-produced Kassam rockets at the battered southern Israel town of Sderot. No injuries were reported in the attacks.
With the increased range of the Iranian-supplied Katyushas, Israel's defense establishment on Wednesday began preparing the important port city of Ashdod several miles north of Ashkelon to be the next target.
Ashdod is home to 200,000 Israelis and is the country's second largest port after Haifa. The city is an important economic gateway to and from the Jewish state.
Despite the ongoing rocket fire and the increasing threat, Israel on Wednesday opened several Gaza crossings to allow truck convoys to bring food and medical supplies into the volatile coastal strip.
However, a short time after opening the gates, Israeli security forces discovered a shipment of dangerous chemicals used in the production of terrorist rockets concealed among the humanitarian supplies.