JERUSALEM - Israel's top security official warned yesterday that Gaza militants can hit more Israeli cities with longer-range rockets, on a day when rockets exploded in border towns and a coastal city after an Israel-Hamas truce expired.
Only one Israeli was lightly wounded in the barrage of 19 rockets and three mortars by nightfall. But after a weekend of heavy rocket attacks - and two Israeli airstrikes in response - Israel's government threatened to strike back hard.
One rocket exploded in Ashkelon, a city of about 120,000 on the Mediterranean coast 10 miles north of Gaza. In the past, Israel has responded harshly to attacks on Ashkelon.
Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet security service, warned Israel's Cabinet that Hamas now has rockets that can reach the larger city of Ashdod farther north on the Mediterranean coast and even the outskirts of Beersheba, 30 miles to the east. Such attacks would increase the likelihood of an Israeli invasion of Gaza.
"The scenarios are clear, the plans are clear, the determination is clear, and so are the ramifications of each of the steps," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at his Cabinet's weekly meeting. "A responsible government is not happy to go to war, but does not evade it."
The government has been under heavy pressure to react to the rocket fire, but the military has so far been wary of doing so for fear of casualties. In the past, large operations have not succeeded in stopping the rockets.
A truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers expired on Friday after six months. The truce had frayed since early November, and rocket fire at Israeli towns has been increasing steadily in recent days. *