Gaza rocket shatters calm, Olmert says he can't defend Israel

Tuesday, March 11, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

Palestinian terrorists operating out of the northern Gaza Strip fired a rocket at the nearby Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon on Tuesday, ending several days of relative calm in and around the volatile Hamas-ruled territory.

Earlier in the week, there had been talk of a de facto ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza terrorists, with the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreeing not to launch anti-terror military operations into Gaza so long as the Palestinians refrained from firing rockets at southern Israel.

A report in a London-based Arabic newspaper on Tuesday indicated that Israel was interested in a one-month unofficial ceasefire with Hamas as a trial period to determine the Palestinians' willingness to live peacefully side-by-side with Israel. According to the newspaper, that message was conveyed to Egyptian officials by a senior Israeli defense official who visited Cairo this week.

Meanwhile, Olmert, during a visit to Ashkelon prior to Tuesday's rocket attack, insisted that he could do nothing to prevent the future bombardment of the town, which is home to 120,000 Israelis, one of Israel's largest electrical power plants and numerous chemical storage facilities.

Speaking to angered residents, Olmert asserted that Israel "has no way of preventing these [rocket attacks] from recurring."

Appearing to suggest that Israelis must simply resign themselves to a fate of living under constant threat to their lives, Olmert told the residents that "this has been Israel's reality for the past 60 years, and this demands restraint as well as strength."

Not satisfied with the prime minister's position, residents of the nearby battered town of Sderot this week filed a class action suit against Mr. Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak for failing to adequately defend the nation's citizens.

According to the residents' lawyers, Israel and the US jointly developed a sophisticated anti-missile defense system in the mid-1990s to protect against Hizballah rocket attacks from southern Lebanon. However, the government is refusing to deploy the system in Sderot and other southern Israel communities that have been hit by over 7,000 rockets from Gaza over the past five years.

Olmert has previously insisted that despite the ongoing rocket fire, he will not permit what he terms the "over fortification" of southern Israel. Many believe that position is based on a desire to avoid admitting that the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake that has put the residents of southern Israel in grave danger.

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