* Rocket fire continues out of Gaza despite six-day blitz
* Israel targets launch sites, rocket stores
* Missiles from Iran, Libya, Sudan had flowed into Gaza
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM, Nov 19 Israel's assault on Gaza's
rocket arsenals is aimed at countering what it sees as a growing
strategic threat posed by Iranian-supplied missiles smuggled in
Though by the far the superior military power, Israel had
been unable to stop the Palestinian rockets needling its
southern towns over the past decade.
Since the latest flare-up of hostilities, rockets fired from
Gaza have killed three Israelis, on top of a death toll of about
30 people since 2001.
The missiles, while a threat to the Israelis who live within
range, are not precision-guided and sirens usually give people
just enough warning to take cover before they hit. Others have
been knocked down by Israel's Iron Dome interceptor system.
But among the Israelis' concerns is this: If they go to war
against their arch-enemy Iran's nuclear programme, the Islamist
Hamas-governed Gaza Strip could serve as a launch pad for the
reprisals promised by Tehran.
By Monday, Israel said it had carried out 1,350 air strikes
against Gaza arms caches and other sites. But the rocket fire
persisted, hitting mostly within a 25-km (15 mile) radius.
"The Palestinian capabilities, we can assume, have been
damaged, but they remain intact as a cycle of fire has been
maintained," said Uzi Rubin, an Israeli missile expert.
That may reflect the priorities of Israel's targeting.
As with its 2006 offensive against Hezbollah guerrillas in
Lebanon, Israel's opening broadside in Gaza last Wednesday was
against what it described as underground stores and silos of the
longest-range guerrilla rockets hidden there.
The most powerful of these were Iranian-designed Fajr-5s,
with 75 km (46 miles) ranges and 175 kg (385 lb) warheads
capable of reaching Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
At 6 metres (18 feet) in length, the Fajr-5s are hard to
transport and conceal. The Israelis say Iran has been
manufacturing them for Hamas, which brings them in through Sudan
and the Egyptian Sinai, under whose desert frontier with Gaza
there is a network of smuggling tunnels.
STRIPPED DOWN ROCKETS
Israeli security sources said around 20 of the Fajr-5s had
been destroyed on the ground. Hamas has fired rockets at Tel
Aviv four times since, though Israeli sources said some of those
were less powerful variants on the Fajr, stripped of their
weighty explosives for extra range and greater psychological
One such example might have been the rocket Hamas fired on
Friday at Jerusalem, which it called a homemade "Qassam M-75".
The Gaza arsenal is pyramid-like, with the Fajr-5s at the
apex and shorter-ranged rockets stockpiled in greater numbers.
Before their current offensive, the Israelis spoke of Gaza
having a total of 10,000 rockets and mortar bombs. Most of those
rockets were homemade, with 15-km (10 miles) ranges and dubbed
Qassams by Hamas though other factions use different names.
Gaza also had a quantity - in the lower thousands, according
to Israel - of imported, Soviet-style Grad or Katyusha rockets
with ranges of between 20 km and 40 km (12 miles and 25 miles).
Palestinians have fired more than 1,100 rockets and mortars
since Wednesday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said. She did
not say how many more had been bombed on the ground.
Many of the Gaza rockets are in buried launch tubes that
have allowed them to be fired at Israel by remote control,
sparing Palestinian guerrillas exposure to counter-strikes.
How Hamas members weather the assault will prove key to
further fighting. Though the faction's overall military
commander, Ahmed al-Jaabari, died in an Israeli missile strike
that triggered this round of violence, Hamas has local squads in
Gaza's towns and camps that can, to a degree, operate
More than half of the 90 Palestinians killed in the clashes
have been civilians, Gaza hospitals said. Israel has said a
significant number of the dead were fighters, but has published
the names of just three senior figures other than Jaabari.
Should Israel escalate to an invasion, its troops and tanks
would have to contend with guerrillas in Hamas bunkers and
trenches that still function, Israel Radio said on Monday.
Reuters correspondents in and around Gaza also report a
relative absence of Israeli combat helicopters that could
provide ground forces with close support - reflecting, possibly,
Israel's fear of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that have
been smuggled into Gaza from Libya since last year's civil war.