Tel Aviv, Israel (CNSNews.com) - Israel turned up the heat on the Palestinian Authority in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, stepping up its strikes on terrorist targets and warning that it would not tolerate the firing of even one missile toward its sovereign territory.
Israel completed its pullout of troops and residents from the Gaza Strip more than two weeks ago, leaving the area under the complete control of the P.A. But Hamas enjoys widespread popular support in Gaza, and the P.A. has been reluctant to assert itself by means of force there.
On Wednesday, Israel targeted the three structures in the Gaza Strip that the army said had been used for "terror activity" knocking out the power in parts of the Gaza Strip.
Several staging grounds and an access route leading to areas where Palestinian militants launch Kassam rockets toward Israel were also hit, and for the first time since the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel fired artillery into the Gaza Strip.
Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv, head of the army's operational command, said that the objective of the operation called "first rain" was to make it clear that the "new rules of the game" of the post-disengagement period were already in play.
"The strategic reality has changed," Ziv told reporters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. "We do not intend to accept any fire from Gaza toward Israel. This is the strategic change," he said.
Some 40 Kassam rockets and mortar shells have been fired at the Israeli community of Sderot and the surrounding areas since last Friday, when Hamas blamed Israel for an explosion in the Jebalya refugee camp that killed 21 Palestinians.
Israel denied any connection with the blast, and the P.A. said later that it had been the result of Hamas militants' mishandling of explosives.
Ziv said that Israel would not accept any other policy than "full accountability and full responsibility" of the P.A. over the Gaza Strip.
P.A. chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas had committed to "sustain the cessation of violence completely." He also pledged to "end all manifestation of arms in the streets of Gaza" while at the same time bolstering the capability of the P.A. forces, Erekat said.
Gaza is full of armed militias, which openly tout weapons on the streets. Israel has demanded that the P.A. dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, which would include collecting all illegally held weapons.
But Erekat said that dealing with the weapons is a process. Once the arms are not visible on the streets anymore, then the P.A. can begin to enact laws controlling them, he said.
Ziv said that Israel's operation is not limited in "time or volume."
"We want to make clear that the rules of the game are no longer permitting the situation of anarchy in the Gaza Strip," he said. "We demand from the P.A. to take full responsibility and substantial action in order to stop the terror [completely]."
In the past, Israel would back off on its attacks against terrorist groups if the firing of rockets abated, but even though there was only one rocket fired at Israel on Tuesday, Israel intends to keep up the pressure, a senior military source said.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the army knew for sure that one terrorist organization, which he did not name, had produced another 10 Kassam rockets in the last few days. Kassam rockets can only be kept for a month, he said.
Israel is willing to use all military means, although it has not abandoned its morality, and is already using heavier ammunition and carrying out more massive attacks, the source said. Its actions are not limited to the Gaza Strip, he said.
Israeli forces have arrested hundreds of militants over the last few days, including 150 from Hamas and 55 from Islamic Jihad. But the source denied that the arrest operations had anything to do with upcoming P.A. parliamentary elections.
Israel has objected to Hamas' participation in the elections as long as it remains an armed terror group.
Nevertheless, Israel has no intention in interfering in the elections, which the source said was an "internal Palestinian problem."
Cutting the funds
Israeli forces also closed 15 offices of charity organizations (Daawa) that Israel said were used to give financial support for the families of suicide bombers and imprisoned terrorists.
"This financial and social support provides an incentive for terrorists to carry out attacks," the army said. "Under the guise of a charity association the Daawa organizations function as a system for the flow of terror funds."
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office announced on Tuesday that it had arrested a senior Hamas terrorist who received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization's command in Saudi Arabia.
Muhammed Yakub Abu Etzev, a resident of Jerusalem, was the main conduit of financing for the southern West Bank command, a statement said.
In related news, a Hamas cell released an al Qaeda style video on Tuesday, showing a blindfolded, kidnapped Israeli pleading for his life and asking that Palestinian prisoners be released.
Jerusalem resident Sasson Nuriel, 50, was abducted last week, but details of the case were placed under a gag order until Monday, after his body was found near Ramallah.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-Brief.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.