Crossfire War – Palestinians Launch Katyusha Rocket for the First Time-Ashkelon

Crossfire War – RAPID FIRE NEWS=TEHRAN – GAZA – NABLUS WATCH – West Asia – North – Northeast Africa Theatre: Tehran – Riyadh – Tripoli – Khartoum – Baghdad – Amman – Cairo – Damascus – Nablus – Gaza/Jerusalem – Paris – Rome – London – Washington; Katyusha Rocket Fired By Palestinians in Gaza for First Time Hits North of Ashkelon – Large Israel Deployment in Nablus West Bank – Olmert Meets Jordan King Abdullah Ii – Iran Amb Meets Syria Defense Minister – Heavy Fighting in Gaza Strip

Night Watch: ASHKELON – “The Palestinians have attacked a major Israeli city…and thus have upped the ante. Israel will not allow any cities to be attacked by Palestinian rocket fire.” That was the quote from Israel government spokesperson David Baker right after Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Resistance Committees (PRC) took credit for launching a 12mm Grad Katyusha rocket at the major city of Askhelon on the Mediterranean. The rocket hit the northern part of the city, 11 miles (17 km) north of Gaza and caused no damage, but it is a major escalation since the Palestinians have never fired one before though it has been reported for at least two years they did possess some. This occurred the day after Hamas agents, trained in Iran and Syria, were allowed to return to Gaza through the Rafah terminal controlled by Egypt. Islamic Jihad-PRC issued a joint statement, “We are going to launch more strikes into the depth of the entity.” Ashkelon, with a population of 120,000 is not only six times the size of Sderot in the Negev desert the target of most Qassam rockets, but also contains Israel’s most important oil terminal and strategic installations. The Katyusha has twice the range and power of the Qassam and is also more accurate. It was used with great effectiveness by Hezbollah during its war with Israel in the summer of 2006. [JPOST]

In an indication attacks of this scale will not be tolerated the Jerusalem Post/AP report the Israel Air Force (IAF) responded by bombing three buildings in the Gaza Strip used by Palestinian militants, specifically the ones used for rocket storage and manufacture. Two of the weapons storage buildings were in Gaza City and used by Islamic Jihad. The third building was in south Gaza used by Hamas. South Gaza also witnessed the heaviest ground fighting when the Israel Defense Force (IDF) sent a column of at least 10 Israeli tanks into action east of Khan Younis on a bombardment mission and were immediately met by heavy fire by Palestinian gunmen firing from buildings. The tanks killed a Palestinian militant and his family members when they shelled his house and for a while, the tanks became trapped in the area. The armored column had to be rescued by an IAF air strike. IAF F-16s also bombed selected targets in the strip.

Nablus – In a parallel development the IDF conducted its largest operation in four months in the West Bank concentrating on the city of Nablus. At least fifty jeeps were used in a search operation for militants. Nablus, pop. 150,000, is the center of anti-Israel activity in the West Bank.

Aqaba – The Jerusalem Post/AP report Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a surprise visit to Jordan where he met King Abdullah II in Aqaba. According to Israel Radio the Prime Minister discussed increasing tensions with Egypt and no doubt this is in response to Cairo breaking all security arrangements it had made with Jerusalem against Palestinian militants when Egyptian officials permitted Hamas agents to re-enter Gaza unsearched through the Rafah terminal. With Egypt President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo no longer reliable and cooperation from Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah doubtful at best, Olmert is desperately reaching for some strategic support from a neighboring government. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut is not only neutralized, but Lebanon is now headed by a military government close to the Islamic Axis of Iran-Syria, so Israel’s last chance is Jordan, but I doubt if His Majesty will give Olmert anything more than a hearing. He may actually be quite amused at Israel’s new isolation. [JPOST]

I doubt if Olmert will be able to impress upon him that the extremists are a threat to Jordan also since Amman supports the Palestinian cause against Israel while at the same time His Majesty would not mind if the West has less influence in the affairs of the region. King Abdullah never minded seeing the London-Washington occupation of Iraq under attack nor did he mind Hezbollah’s successes against Israel in 2006. I suspect his main concern is to see more Palestinian unity instead of civil war. Amman is what I sometimes call a secret partner in the Islamic Axis, which is why Amman is one of the best places to watch the war from, everyone is there. A lot of the $150 million Hamas agents carried through Rafah was in Jordanian currency. About all Olmert may get from King Abdullah is a commitment to work together after the Jihad runs its offensive course this year.

Damascus – Countering Olmert’s moves is Tehran which is having its Ambassador to Damascus, Mohammad-Hassan Akhtari, meet with Syria Defense Minister General Hassan Turkmani. I suspect they are quietly celebrating the new cooperation with Egypt and this is just after Iran National Security Adviser Ali Larijani spent ten days in Cairo. And now the Katyusha rocket fired from Gaza. Chances are the next phase is to have the re-supplied Hezbollah become active again in Lebanon and this time with the support of the entire Lebanese army, which will trap the 12,000 European troops in south Lebanon serving in UNIFIL. It is this escalation Tehran-Damascus are going to use to enter the war. Any leading figure or political group in any Islamic government-institution opposed to the increased fighting is at extreme risk. It is this war Tehran intends to use to establish its interpretation of the New Middle East, very much opposed to the West. [IRNA]

Ahmad Moussavi is scheduled to become Tehran’s new Ambassador to Damascus.

Willard Payne is an international affairs analyst who specializes in International Relations. A graduate of Western Illinois University with a concentration in East-West Trade and East-West Industrial Cooperation, he has been providing incisive analysis to NewsBlaze. He is the author of Imagery: The Day Before.