Israel Mulls Response to Gaza Escalation

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- The Israeli government is formulating its response to the barrage of rocket and missile fire that killed one man, injured dozens -- several critically -- and inflicted extensive property damage in southern cities over the weekend.

Air raid sirens sounded again in Ashkelon and Beersheva early Sunday morning, warning residents of incoming Grad missiles. Early reports indicated Palestinians fired up to 10 Grad-type Katyushas, one scoring a direct hit on a school that was empty.

The eight-member security cabinet met late into the night on Saturday as rocket fire on the civilian population in the south continued to escalate following Thursday's multi-phased terror attacks that killed eight Israelis.

Palestinians fired more than 120 rockets, missiles and mortars over the weekend, reminiscent of the attacks that spurred Israel's three-week military incursion in the Gaza Strip in late December 2009.

Gaza-based terrorists fired longer-range Grad missiles at Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Beersheva. Two children were injured in Ofakim, including an infant. Salvos of shorter-range Kassams and mortar shells bombarded other towns and farming communities in the south.

Defense officials said Israel would do what it takes to restore deterrence, but was not planning a second Operation Cast Lead at this time.

The newly operational Iron Dome system shot down several Grad missiles fired at Beersheva Saturday and Sunday morning.

Israeli pilots scored direct hits on launch sites, smuggling tunnels, weapons manufacturing sites and other terror infrastructure in Gaza.

Palestinian sources said nine members of Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees were killed in the air strikes.

The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas "military" wing, announced over the weekend the "calm with Israel was over," YNet news reported.

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement calling on the U.N. Security Council to halt "Israeli aggression" in Gaza. 

Chief P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat echoed Abbas, calling on the Security Council to "halt Israeli aggression and grave escalation, which claimed the lives of scores of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

Egypt's envoy to the P.A., Yasser Othman, met with Abbas in Ramallah, Jerusalem Post Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh reported. Abbas is concerned the escalation will affect the P.A.'s plans to seek unilateral recognition of statehood at the U.N. in September.

"Israel is preparing for war to distract attention from the Palestinian Authority's plan for September," P.A. envoy to the Arab League, Mohammed Subh, said, according to the report. Subh said they have been "expecting such an aggression."

"We were expecting Israel to intensify tensions in the region as we approached the September deadline," Subh said. "Israel is seeking to create mayhem in the region," he said.

Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu Aitah called it a "premeditated and programmed aggression aimed at avoiding the international crisis in Israel" and said the P.A. would "fully support the people in their resistance against this aggression."

The Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority and the Hamas faction controlling the Gaza Strip have been unable to form a unity government based on an agreement signed by the two factions in Cairo in April.

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