| DEBKAFILE - April 24, 2007 |
Ten mortar shells round struck Sderot's Hadar district by 8:30 a.m. local time; 6 Qassam missiles exploded in other parts of the W. Negev, causing damage but no casualties. The Hamas military arm, Ezz-e-Din al Qassam announced shortly before 8.00 a.m. that it had shot 80 missiles and mortar rounds at Israeli targets in retaliation for IDF operations. The Hamas announcement on Israel's 59th Day of Independence comes after nearly two years of an informal truce in overt violence. In fact, the daily missile barrage form Gaza resumed four days ago on Saturday.
DEBKAfile's military sources report: Hamas' strategic decision to go back to its missile, terror and suicide operations was taken recently, after the organization, which dominates the Palestinian unity government, judged its stockpile of ordnance sufficient to sustain a heavy blitz of Israel's towns and villages, and its units equipped and ready to withstand a responsive Israeli military incursion.
Military sources in southern Israel told DEBKAfile they do not rule out a further escalation capable of drag the sector into an open clash. They explain that Hamas' new offensive was no independence decision, but undertaken with backing from Tehran and Hizballah. The overall plan may be to extend it to other fronts.
Hamas' direction was clearly visible, said those sources. Many Israeli commanders view it as the consequence of the Olmert government's laxness which enabled Hamas and other Palestinian organizations to build up their strength, send units to train in Iran and work under the guidance of Revolutionary Guards instructors - who come and go to and from the Gaza Strip unhindered - and import ever more sophisticated weapons and explosives through Sinai.
The government also neglected to press Cairo and the European border monitors posted on the Gaza- Egyptian border to put a stop to Iranian and Hizballah passage. For two years, the border, including the Philadelphi sector evacuated by Israeli in 2005, has been wide open.
DEBKAfile adds: The Hamas offensive launched April 24 makes a mockery of Israeli, US and European bids to reach out to "unaffiliated ministers" of the new Hamas-led Palestinian government, in the hope of toning down its innate violence. The Europeans, Saudis, Egyptians and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, by lifting the international heat from the Palestinians, gave them the chance to top up their arsenal, perfect their skills, and hatch their schemes undisturbed.
Saturday, April 21, Hamas threatened to start abducting Israelis and Jews overseas.
The threat came in response to Israel's refusal to bow to the terms for releasing the Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit and BBC correspondent Alan Johnston. Lacking networks outside the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Hamas is expected to employ the extensive Lebanese Hizballah covert infrastructure which branches out across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The Shin Bet security service has circulated a kidnap alert to Israeli embassies, overseas firms and Jewish institutions.