Attack with Russian-made rocket worries Israelis

Friday, March 31, 2006

TEL AVIV Israel's military are treating a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip as a major escalation in the Palestinian war against the Jewish state.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz convened senior officials and military commanders to discuss the Katyusha strike, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the military has assessed that Palestinian insurgency groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acquired the Soviet-origin Grad rocket from the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah in Lebanon.

Officials said the firing of a Katyusha rocket from the northern Gaza Strip on March 28 marked a major boost in Palestinian military capability. They said Palestinian insurgents have demonstrated their ability to operate and maintain the Katyusha rocket, with a range of about 20 kilometers.

"This is a very worrisome development because the Palestinians now have genuine rockets that could cause far more damage than the Kassam [short-range missile]," an official said.

"This is a grave act that requires a determined response," Mofaz was quoted as saying.

[On late Thursday, four Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing at the entrance of the Jewish community of Kedumim in the northern West Bank. The bomber, a Palestinian from the Hebron area, was dressed as an Orthodox Jewish hitch-hiker who hailed a Kedumim motorist. Fatah claimed responsibility for the attack.]

Military sources said the Grad was manufactured and delivered by Iran to the Gaza Strip. They said Iran has transferred Katyushas and production expertise to Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups in the Palestinian Authority.

[On Thursday, Palestinian gunners fired five Kassam short-class missiles toward Israel. Israel responded with artillery and naval fire.]

Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility for the Katyusha attack. In a statement, Jihad said it has acquired "many" Katyushas with a range of up to 30 kilometers.

Jihad identified the Grad as having a caliber of 122 mm and a range of between 18 and 30 kilometers. The rocket was said to measure 2.8 meters, weigh 66 kilograms, including a 17-kilogram warhead.

Jihad spokesman Abu Abdullah said the Grad was produced in Russia and smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The spokesman said Palestinians would keep firing rockets in an effort to pressure Israel to withdraw from additional territory around the Gaza Strip.

"These rockets, God willing, will be the reason for liberating the villages adjacent to the Gaza Strip," Abu Abdullah said.

Jihad said its engineers were examining the Grads in an effort to develop and produce similar rockets. Jihad has been aided by Hizbullah and Iran.

Copyright 2006 East West Services, Inc.

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