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Israel to Target Palestinian Rocket Squads While Maintaining Truce

27 December 2006

Israel says it will make a limited - "pinpoint" - response to Palestinian rocket attacks, but will maintain a ceasefire that it agreed to with Palestinians late last month. Palestinians rejected the move, warning that it will lead to an escalation of violence, while some Israelis say the decision does not go far enough. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

At a meeting of top defense officials, Israel decided to renew pinpoint attacks against Palestinian rocket-launching squads. But otherwise, it will continue to adhere to the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. More than 60 rockets have been fired at Israel since the truce began a month ago. The decision to renew operations against militants came hours after two Israeli teenagers were seriously wounded in a rocket attack.

Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen explained the decision on Israel Radio.

"We will do our utmost to attack any of the rocket launchers while they're trying to attack Israeli citizens. But let's not belittle the importance of the ceasefire," she said.

The Islamic Jihad group which is responsible for most of the rocket attacks said if Israel targets its fighters there will be harsh retaliation. Maher Mikdad, a spokesman for the more moderate Fatah faction, called on both sides to exercise restraint.

Mikdad told Israel Radio that the situation has been more stable during the ceasefire, and therefore the truce must be preserved.

But residents of the Israeli border town of Sderot, where rockets fall nearly every day, described the government's decision as an act of weakness. Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal says there never was a ceasefire with the Palestinians.

"They [are] still declaring that they want to shoot and keep shooting, so we must find a way to prevent them shooting at us," said Moyal.

Sderot residents are demanding a major air and ground offensive in Gaza. But the Israeli government says it has already tried that with limited success, and now, it wants to give diplomacy a chance.

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