Jerusalem — Israel will enforce a new off-limits zone in the Gaza Strip with artillery, helicopter and gunboat fire, its latest response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns, defense officials said Friday.
The promised barrage would mark some of Israel's toughest military action in Gaza since it withdrew from the coastal strip in September. Palestinian officials on Friday promised to send more of their security forces to the Gaza border to prevent rocket attacks.
Israel's deputy defense minister, Zeev Boim, said the no-go zone was part of Israel's stepped-up response to the militant rocket fire, which has intensified since the Gaza withdrawal. Israel has launched missiles and artillery fire at suspected launching areas and killed several militants in recent months.
Israel hopes the Palestinians "will get the message and that this will stop the rocket squads," Boim told Israel Radio. "If we must, we will have to tighten the screw further."
Boim ruled out a major ground offensive in Gaza and acknowledged that the highly inaccurate homemade Qassam rockets do not pose a strategic threat to Israel.
The rockets have a range of about six miles. Since the Gaza pullout, militants have been able to move their launch sites closer to a border fence, bringing the Israeli city of Ashkelon into range, along with sensitive infrastructure installations including a power plant and a fuel depot.