Islamic Jihad claims to have `many' Russian-made rockets with 30-km range

Israelis warned that several of their southern cities, villages and strategic installations could be targeted after Palestinian militants said Wednesday they have "many" long-range Katyusha rockets in Gaza that can fly up to 30 kilometers (18 miles).

The militants' use of longer-range rockets, like the one launched for the first time from Gaza into Israel on Tuesday, represents a new stage in the armed conflict with Israel, Israeli security analysts said. In recent years, militants have fired hundreds of homemade Qassam rockets with a range of about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Gaza into Israel.

The Qassams have fallen short of the Israeli city of Ashkelon. But Katyushas could easily reach the city,and a sensitive industrial area just south of it.

A shaky video released by Islamic Jihad on Wednesday shows what it says is the Katyusha launch. A slender rocket is seen perched on its launcher among greenhouses in northern Gaza, with the tall smokestacks of the Ashkelon power station clearly visible in the background. The handheld camera loses track of the rocket after it leaps into the air. The Israeli military said ithe Katyusha caused no casualties or damage when it exploded.

"The (Palestinian militants who launched the rocket) are on the threshold of crossing the red line," said Zeev Schiff, a strategic affairs analyst for the Haaretz daily. "It's quite serious."

Islamic Jihad said Wednesday it has the Grad version of the Katyusha, which is 2.8 meters (9 feet) long, weighs 66 kilograms (145 pounds) and has a caliber of 122 mm. They said they had "many" of the rockets, which carry a 17 kilogram (37 pounds) warhead and have a range of between 18 (11 miles) and 30 kilometers (18 miles).

Abu Abdullah, a spokesman for the group, said the rockets were made in Russia and smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. Taking its inspiration from the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which attacked northern Israel with Katyusha rockets during Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon from 1982-2000. Islamic Jihad planned to use the rockets to try to force Israel to evacuate land adjacent to Gaza, he said.

He said any Israeli attacks on Islamic Jihad would be met with a "quick response." Israel has repeatedly conducted raids in recent months against Islamic Jihad, which has been responsible for all seven suicide bombings against Israel since an informal cease fire took hold last year and most of the hundreds of rocket barrages from Gaza, reports AP.

O.Ch.