Jerusalem Israel unveiled a new tactic Wednesday aimed at deterring Palestinians from firing rockets out of the Gaza Strip - it will cut off Gaza's electricity bit by bit as a pressure tactic every time rockets hit Israeli territory.
Israel provides more than half of Gaza's electricity, and any power cutoff is sure to make life more difficult people in the impoverished region - and draw harsh international criticism.
The retaliation would begin with short cutoffs that would gradually increase for continued rocket fire, but a lengthy power blackout would not be imposed, defense officials said.
Israel's government declared Gaza a "hostile territory" last month, clearing the way for sanctions. The decision came after the June takeover of the territory by the Islamic militants of Hamas and almost daily rocket fire by Gaza militants at towns in southern Israel.
A rocket exploded on a home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the Israeli military killed two members of a Palestinian rocket squad in Gaza, Hamas security and hospital officials said. The Israeli military said it attacked after rocket fire from the area.
The extremist group Islamic Jihad said it fired rockets a few minutes before the Israeli attack. It said the two dead were 15 years old. Often teenagers go out to get launchers after rockets are fired.
Early today, Israeli soldiers killed two Hamas militants in a clash near Khan Younis in Gaza, Hamas officials and the military said.
Israel's deputy defense minister, Matan Vilnai, said it was time to increase pressure on the militants over the rocket fire.
"It's clear that we have to cut off ... the supply of electricity and the supply of fuel," Vilnai told Israeli Army Radio. "We will dramatically reduce the flow of electricity from Israel over several weeks."
Vilnai headed the team that formulated the plan, which was expected to be formally approved today by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli officials said. They agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because the plan had not been officially adopted.
The officials said Israel would start by cutting off electricity for 15 minutes after each rocket barrage, lengthening the blackout each day as long as rocket fire continued. It was not known when the policy would take effect.
Alaa Araj, an economic adviser to Gaza's Hamas government, said the Israeli measure would violate human rights by hurting the strip's entire population. "Society will be drawn into darkness and daily life will be crippled," he said.
Israel can expect international criticism if it goes ahead with the plan.
When it first announced its intention to impose sanctions last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the idea in unusually strong language.