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Last Updated: Friday, 3 November 2006, 17:46 GMT
Efficacy of Gaza raids questioned
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jerusalem

Palestinian militants with Qassam rocket (file image)
Building and firing Qassam rockets is very simple
The Israeli operation in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza has the stated aim of stopping militant rocket fire, but in Israel there is deep scepticism that military force will achieve this.

The Qassam rockets fired into Israel from Gaza are rarely fatal, but they cause injuries and anxiety, and disrupt normal daily life.

Politically, they are also damaging to the current government.

Critics argue that the continued rocket fire proves that the withdrawal of settlers and military bases from Gaza last year has made the security situation for Israelis worse.

'Bungled war'

And there have been reports in Israeli newspapers that the army is encountering fierce resistance to the current assault - dubbed Autumn Clouds.

There has also been stinging criticism of the way the Israeli government and the army are conducting the operation.

The Israeli daily newspaper Maariv printed a report that the government had not prepared a "solution" to end the rocket attacks.

This is sensitive, particularly as many Israelis thought their army bungled the war in Lebanon this summer.

Some Israeli security analysts, however, believe that the problem cannot be resolved by military force.

Ground offensive call

Israel has tried to stop the rockets by sending in troops to destroy workshops and target the militants.

Israeli troops
Israeli officials do not want a long ground engagement in Gaza
But the technology involved in building Qassam rockets and firing them is very simple and there is a ready supply of fighters.

An editorial in the Jerusalem Post ran: "This might be the largest operation in the strip, with a brigade-size force, since disengagement, but no-one is under the illusion that this is what will end the Qassam threat once and for all."

A growing minority of Israeli politicians are therefore pushing for a large-ground offensive into Gaza, which they believe will end the rocket fire.

"What we need is a large military operation to capture the Gaza strip and destroy the terrorist infrastructure," says Yuval Steinitz, a member of the Israeli parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

Smuggled weapons

"And we need to do it now, because things could only get worse."

There is also growing concern in the Israeli government that large amounts of weapons are being smuggled into Gaza from Egypt to arm Palestinian militants.

For now, anyway, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appears to be stalling on a large-scale assault on Gaza.

Israeli officials do not want to get into a long ground engagement in Gaza or to re-invade the strip on a large scale, reversing last year's withdrawal.

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