Israel is threatening to step up military operations in the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian rocket attacks. The Palestinian Authority is facing an ultimatum.
Israel says the Palestinians crossed a red line by firing rockets from Gaza into the biggest Israeli city in the area, Ashkelon. Militants fired the rockets from former Jewish settlements in northern Gaza that Israel abandoned in August. Now Ashkelon is within range, and Israeli spokesman Dore Gold says that poses a strategic threat.
"The real significant red line is that they are firing in the direction of southern Ashkelon where major strategic installations of the state of Israel are located, including the Ashkelon power station and the outlet of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline which carries oil from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean," he said.
Mr. Gold says Israel will do whatever is necessary to halt the rocket attacks.
"Clearly, the Sharon government needs to take steps that haven't been take up until now," added the spokesman.
Since Israel does not want to reoccupy areas of Gaza from where it pulled out, the plan that is shaping up is for the army to create a buffer zone. The aim of any military offensive would be to push Palestinian militants out of the range of Ashkelon.
"That can only be done if they declare the area of northern Gaza as a no-entry zone where Israel will open fire on anybody who goes into that region," he added.
Israel says the plan will be implemented unless the Palestinian Authority takes immediate action to halt the rocket fire. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is taking the Israeli threats seriously. He ordered the deployment of additional security forces along the Gaza border with the aim of preventing rocket attacks.
Israel has low expectations. Mr. Abbas has vowed to restore law and order, but he has been unable to rein in Islamic militants bent on continuing the jihad, or holy war, against the Jewish state.