Israel Weighs a Response to Gaza Rocket Fire The Israeli government ruled out a large-scale military response to ongoing Palestinian rocket fire, but is considering cutting water and electricity to Gaza if the rocket fire continues. Residents from a southern Israeli town, a frequent target of the rockets, want their government do more.
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Israel Weighs a Response to Gaza Rocket Fire

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Israel Weighs a Response to Gaza Rocket Fire

Israel Weighs a Response to Gaza Rocket Fire

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Today, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the army to draw up a plan to cut off water and electricity to the Gaza Strip. Such a plan might be used if rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel continue. But the Israeli government has so far ruled out a large-scale military response.

And in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which is a frequent target of the Palestinian rockets, people are demanding a stronger response. Hundreds of protesters went to Jerusalem today to make their voices heard.

NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

(Soundbite of protesters chanting)

LINDA GRADSTEIN: About a dozen children from Sderot were among the demonstrators today. They stood on a mound of sand opposite the prime minister's office calling on Olmert to resign.

Nine-year-old Nirya Davidi, her blue eyes flashing, said she's tired of living under the threat of almost daily Qassam rockets.

Ms. NIRYA DAVIDI (Protester): (Through translator) I just want to be safe in Sderot. I don't want money or anything else. I - just to be safe. I don't want a Qassam rocket to fall on me. I want the prime minister to come to Sderot and see what it's like. Maybe then he'll do something.

GRADSTEIN: Sderot, with its 22,000 residents, is a middle-class town with tree-lined streets just a few miles from Gaza. Residents have only about 20 seconds to take shelter when an alarm warns of an incoming rocket.

Olmert convened his security cabinet to discuss an Israeli response to the rocket fire. In a statement after the five-hour meeting, the government expressed solidarity with the residents and promised to continue what it called, intensive military operations, against all those involved in rocket launching.

The government said it holds the Islamist movement Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June, responsible for the rocket fire. But another militant group, Islamic Jihad, has claimed responsibility for the latest barrages saying they were to avenge an Israeli attack in Gaza that left three Palestinian children dead.

Since Israel withdrew from Gaza two years ago, more than 2,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into southern Israel. The rockets are crude and highly inaccurate, frequently landing in empty fields. But two Israelis have been killed in rocket attacks so far this year.

What sparked today's protest was a rocket that landed next to a Sderot nursery school earlier this week as parents were dropping off their children. TV footage of panicked parents and children running for shelter aired repeatedly here. A parents' committee closed down Sderot's schools indefinitely.

At the demonstration, Shalom Halevi, who has lived in Sderot for decades, said life has become intolerable.

Mr. SHALOM HALEVI (Protestor): Qassam rockets continue to fall on Sderot, and the government say, and the prime minister - we will do our best. We'll do our best. We are doing our best, but they are doing nothing.

GRADSTEIN: Halevi said the limited Israeli military incursions into Gaza have not been effective. He said Israel must squeeze the population of Gaza, who will then pressure Hamas to halt the rocket fire. Halevi said Israel should cut off water, electricity and fuel shipments to Gaza every time a rocket is fired.

Mr. HALEVI: Then they will understand that if they want to live quietly, they must stop.

GRADSTEIN: Human rights groups argue that such steps amount to collective punishment and violate international law. But several Israeli cabinet ministers favor those steps.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon said, this week, that Israel should put a price tag on each rocket attack. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said life in Gaza cannot continue normally as long as life in Israel is not normal.

Mr. TZIPI LIVNI (Israel's Foreign Minister): Gaza Strip depend on Israel's goodwill in several things, and I think that it's about time that we will discuss what type of means and steps we can take in order to send the message.

GRADSTEIN: Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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