TEL AVIV, Israel, March 27 (UPI) -- Israel has deployed its Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system for the first time in response to the recent escalation in rocket fire on southern Israel.
Speaking before Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel is not interested in an escalation of violence in Gaza but stressed that attacks on southern Israel will not be tolerated, Israel Radio said.
"In the last two weeks there have been parties attempting to disturb peace and security .. We don't want to escalate the situation but we will not hesitate to activate the strength of Israel Defense Forces," the radio quoted him saying.
Military officials told Maariv the army would have preferred to delay the deployment of the system, but due to the recent escalation in rocket attacks on Israel, a decision was made to deploy the first battery near Beersheba. A second one will be deployed later in the week near Ashkelon, the Hebrew language daily reported.
"I approved the deployment of the Iron Dome battery for operational testing," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Maariv while touring in the South on Friday. "The test will continue I believe a number of weeks and it will be deployed in different areas according to the need," he said.
The Iron Dome defense system uses sophisticated radar to track incoming rockets and intercepts and destroys them far from their targets. Developed by the Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense systems, the system underwent a number of successful tests earlier this year.
Earlier Sunday, an Israeli army spokesman confirmed an attack on a Palestinian cell in northern Gaza that was attempting to fire rockets at southern Israel. Haaretz said the Islamic Jihad in Gaza said its operatives were the target and two were killed and three injured.