(AP) JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned Sunday that Israel will retaliate against Palestinan rockets even if they are fired from civilian areas, and an arms manufacturer said Israel had installed a radar system in a border town to give warning of rocket attacks.
Sharon’s remarks and the reported radar defense were apparently aimed at hardline critics who say Sharon’s planned withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 would expose Israel to intense rocket attacks. Numerous Israeli military forays into northern Gaza have failed to still the rocket fire.
In the four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, Palestinian militants have fired dozens of inaccurate, low-explosive rockets at Israeli border towns and Jewish settlements in Gaza.
The missiles caused deaths for the first time in June, when two Israelis, including a 4-year-old boy, were killed. Many missiles have fallen into fields, while others have damaged homes and cars.
The town of Sderot, a mile from Gaza, has been hit hardest. An early-warning system was recently installed in Sderot to allow residents enough time to get into bomb shelters before the rockets land, said Giora Shalgi, the director of Rafael, an Israeli arms manufacturer.
“It can identify in a very short time where it (the rocket) was launched and assess where it will fall and operate a warning system while the rocket is in the air, which is for about 20 seconds, depending on the range,” Shalgi told Israel Radio.
The Haaretz newspaper said the system is attached to Sderot’s public address system and was used for the first time a week ago.
Rocket fire from Gaza is expected to increase as the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza draws closer.
Sharon told the Cabinet Sunday that Israel would react more quickly to attacks, even if the rockets are fired from civilian areas. “We have to think about how to act against the sources of the fire, after warning the civilians,” he said.
In the past, Palestinians launching rockets have been targeted by missiles fired from helicopters or on occasion by shells fired from tanks.
In other developments, the army decided to change the military codename for the Gaza withdrawal, to avoid offending religious Jews. The name initially chosen was “heavenly splendor,” a phrase used in a Jewish prayer recited at funerals, a security official said. No new name has been chosen, but the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot said “stepping stones” was being considered.
Also Sunday, Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian near the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel. Soldiers opened fire after spotting a group of Palestinians planting a 66 pound bomb near the fence between Gaza and Israel, the army said. At least one of the Palestinians was armed, the army said.
Palestinian hospital officials identified the dead man as Rami Abu Lehiya, 22, of Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp. The army said he was a member of the militant Islamic Jihad group.
In the West Bank, about 200 Palestinians and foreign supporters demonstrated in Beit Awwa, near the city of Hebron, against the construction of Israel’s separation barrier.
Waving olive branches and wrapped in Palestinian flags, young men shouted “God is Great” in Arabic near an idle Israeli bulldozer. Israeli border police fired tear gas and tried to push the demonstrators away from the area, as an English-speaking demonstrator yelled “no violence!”
In an ensuing shoving match, two Palestinians were injured when they were kicked by the police, witnesses said. Israeli border police reported four officers were injured.