Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust'

Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration
in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the
southern city of Ashkelon. The deputy defence minister
said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he
called a "bigger holocaust" in the Hamas-controlled
coastal strip. Israeli air strikes have killed about 30
Palestinians, including six children in the past two days.

Israel has activated its early warning system in Ashkelon
for the first time. One rocket hit a block of flats in the
city of 120,000 inhabitants about 10km (six miles) north
of the Gaza Strip breaking through the roof and slicing
through three floors below.

No-one was injured, but another rocket landed near a
school, wounding a 17-year-old girl.

"The more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach
a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon
themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our
might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai told Israeli army
radio. Correspondents say the "holocaust" is a term rarely
used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide
during World War II.

Separately, the chairman of the parliamentary defence and
foreign affairs committee said Israel troops must topple
the Hamas movement in Gaza and take over areas used to
fire rockets.

"The state of Israel must make a strategic decision to
order the army to prepare quickly," Tzachi Hanegbi told
Israel Radio.

Code red

Israeli aircraft launched at least three raids on Gaza
overnight. In one attack in the Jabalya area at least four
people were wounded including two children. One Israeli
civilian was killed in rocket fire on Wednesday. Of the
Palestinian fatalities, about half have been civilians,
including at least six children.

Hamas has called on Palestinians and Arabs to hold
protests after Friday prayers against Israel's raids on

Israeli security officials said that the rockets fired at
Ashkelon have been Grad-type imports made in Iran with a
range of about 22km.

It is the first time Israel has ordered Code Red sirens to
be sounded in Ashkelon as well as Sderot, the town almost
abutting Gaza territory where the civilian was killed.

Reports say dozens of soldiers in orange berets from the
Israeli military's Home Front Command have been hanging
posters around the city instructing residents on what to
do when the warning sounds.

"It's a city with large facilities - a huge soccer
stadium, and a basketball stadium, and a beach. No-one is
ready for this," Ashkelon mayor Roni Mehatzri told Israel

Israel's leadership has been under pressure in some
quarters to launch a ground invasion of Gaza to end the
rocket fire. However, a recent opinion poll also indicated
a majority of Israel's favour a negotiated truce with
Hamas. Hamas has been shunned by the West for refusing to
recognise Israel's legitimacy, it beat the Fatah faction
in a parliamentary election two years ago. Hamas says it
will cease fire if Israel stops military operations in
Palestinian areas. It is also demanding an end to the
Israeli-led blockade of Gaza that has cut supplies to its
1.5m inhabitants.