Government orders freeze on IDF operation in north Gaza
PM rejects Beit Hanun plan as 'no good'
By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents, and Agencies 30
[IMRA: It is not clear why the Olmert team appears to have provided this
face-saving spin only to Haaretz]
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday rejected a proposal by Defense
Minister Amir Peretz and the Israel Defense Forces for a ground operation in
the northern Gaza Strip against the ongoing Qassam rocket fire.
Olmert demanded that they present him with an approved operational plan.
According to government sources, the operation, which will target Beit
Hanun, will take place, but Olmert wants the operation to be "prolonged and
exhausting," and did not believe that the plan he was shown fit the bill.
The decision was made following consultations held by Olmert and Peretz with
security officials, after Egypt asked Israel to allow more time for
negotiations on the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted Sunday
from a post near the Gaza border.
The sources added that while IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz approved the
plan, other IDF officers opposed it, and Olmert was informed of their
The operation was aimed at halting Qassam rockets from being fired at
southern Israel. Meanwhile, six of the homemade rockets struck the western
Negev and Sderot on Thursday evening. There were no casualties.
Defense officials were furious at Peretz Thursday night, accusing him both
of revealing that the planned military offensive in northern Gaza had been
postponed and of denying initial reports that the postponement had been at
Egypt had asked Israel to delay the operation at the beginning of the week,
in order to allow time for diplomatic efforts to obtain the release of
kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. However, though negotiations with Hamas
officials both in the territories and outside them are continuing, the talks
have yet to yield a breakthrough.
IAF strikes Gaza Interior Ministry building
Israel Air Force planes struck more than a dozen times in Gaza in the hours
after midnight, hitting the Palestinian Interior Ministry and a Fatah office
in Gaza city, as well as a Hamas training camp in the city's outskirts.
IAF early Friday struck the Palestinian Interior Ministry in downtown Gaza
City, Palestinian witnesses said, setting it on fire. There was no word of
The Interior Ministry is nominally in charge of Palestinian security forces,
though Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas removed most of its
The IDF confirmed its planes hit the office of Interior Minister Saeed
Siyam, which it called "a meeting place to plan and direct terror activity."
Palestinian witnesses said IAF missiles also slammed into an office
belonging to Abbas's Fatah group and a Hamas training camp outside the city.
A Palestinian militant injured in an IAF air strike died of his wounds early
Friday, the first fatality in the IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip,
hospital officials said.
The local leader of Islamic Jihad, Mohammed Abdel Al, 25, had been seriously
wounded in an air strike in Rafah in southern Gaza.
Palestinian hospital officials said a 5-year-old girl was wounded in an air
strike in northern Gaza early Friday. Doctors said her condition was not
On Thursday night, IDF artillery shells hit the electricity distribution
network in the northern Gaza Strip, plunging parts of the area into
Palestinian officials said two power transformers were struck, and two
security officers were wounded by shrapnel. Dr. Ali Mousa, director of the
Abu Yousef al-Najar Hospital in Rafah, also said a 15-year-old boy was
moderately wounded by shrapnel in the blast.
The strike came two days after IAF aircraft attacked a major Gaza City power
station, reportedly leaving roughly two-thirds of Gaza's 1.3 million
residents without electricity.
The IDF confirmed it had been firing artillery at open spaces in the area at
the time of Thursday's incident. The army said it has a report of an
electrical pole being hit and was checking if the artillery fire was in any
IDF artillery units fired more than 400 shells at the Gaza Strip on
Givati infantry troops and the Armored Corps, whose soldiers were to receive
orders to move on Beit Hanun around nightfall, remained poised in their
positions at the north Gaza border.
Mediators involved in contacts to help free Shalit from Palestinian
captivity told Haaretz that Egypt communicated to Jerusalem its wish that
talks be allowed to continue.
Although the talks have yet to yield a breakthrough, negotiations with Hamas
officials in the territories as well as outside of the country are ongoing,
According to information gleaned by the Palestinian Authority, Shalit is
being held in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza. Peretz said
Thursday afternoon that the IDF would sustain its blockade on the Gaza Strip
until Shalit is brought home safely.
The defense minister was speaking at the graduation ceremony of the Israel
Air Force pilots' course.
In a meeting with the heads of the defense establishment earlier in the day,
Peretz predicted there was still a chance for a breakthrough that would lead
to finding Shalit.
"We are now at the crucial moment ahead of setting new rules to the game...
Any action we take must be examined thoroughly, according to its possible
effect on the formulation of these rules," Peretz said.
The IDF has not completely ceased its military activities in Gaza, but is
rather halting any further offensive measures at this stage.
Peretz authorized Thursday the next stages of the IDF's operation in Gaza,
which began overnight Tuesday, and ordered troops to monitor the
humanitarian situation in the Strip.
Hamas gunmen blast hole in border wall
Hundreds of Palestinian and Egyptian police formed human cordons on both
sides of the Gaza-Egypt border Thursday evening, to block a tide of
Palestinians trying to enter after militants blasted a 4-meter hole in a
cement wall near the crossing.
Palestinian security sources reported that the men who detonated the
explosives were Hamas operatives who succeeded in crossing the border into
Sinai from the Brazil neighborhood of Rafah.
Two Palestinian security personnel were wounded in the border explosion, and
security forces were ordered to the area to prevent people from going
through the hole.
Egyptian personnel called a bulldozer to the site in order to dig a dirt
embankment aimed at preventing any infiltration of Palestinians into the
Sinai, but to no avail.
At this stage, the identities of the operatives who carried out the
explosion remain unclear. Palestinian Authority security sources say they do
not know the motive for an escape by Palestinians into Egypt, adding that
they believe the explosion was planned and approved by the upper echelon of
the Hamas military wing.
Abductors taunt Israel over fate of kidnapped soldier
Palestinian militants involved in the kidnapping of Shalit taunted Israel on
Thursday by saying he could be dead or alive.
Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), which
was involved in the attack that led to Shalit's capture, said in a statement
that Israel should stop wasting time if it wanted to resolve the crisis over
"Possibility one: the missing soldier, for one reason or another, is dead
and maybe there is a morgue available for his body or maybe there is not,"
Abu Mujahed said at a news conference.
"Possibility two is the soldier is still alive but is suffering a serious
injury. Medication might be available or might not be available ...
Possibility three is that he is fine but that a long time will pass [before
he is released].
"Wasting time is not in their interests," he said.
Militants take up positions
Also Thursday, dozens of Palestinian militants armed with grenades and
automatic weapons took up positions near sandpiles and barricades in the
northern Gaza Strip, in anticipation of the IDF operation.
Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades sources claimed Thursday they fired a rocket with
a chemical warhead at Israel. The IDF said they did not identify an impact
of any such rocket nor was there even evidence of a launch.
Meanwhile, the IDF continued its land-based operation in the southern Gaza
Strip, and the Israel Air Force also struck targets in the south in
continued efforts to pressure militants to release Shalit.
The IAF carried out an air strike Thursday afternoon against a car in Gaza
City carrying a senior Islamic Jihad militant, who survived the attack,
Palestinian security sources said.
The IDF confirmed it had targeted a vehicle but gave no details about who it
believed was inside. The militant was lightly wounded in the attack,
Late Thursday morning IAF aircrafts also fired missiles near Khan Yunis.
Initially, Palestinian medical officials said a car had been targeted, but
then said the car was just close to an open area hit by the missiles. They
said a militant training camp appeared to have been the target. No
casualties were reported.
The IAF earlier struck a weapons warehouse run by Hamas and the Popular
Resistance Committees in the southern Gaza town of Khan Yunis early Thursday
morning. Witnesses also said three missiles fell in an open field used for
training by Hamas militants.
Hamas and the PRC both said they took part in the attack Sunday in which two
soldiers were killed and Corporal Gilad Shalit was abducted.
IDF prepares for incursion
IDF troops were poised to pour into northern Gaza, where Qassam rockets are
launched daily by militants against Israel, in an operation intended to
place pressure on the Palestinian population.
Palestinians fired six Qassam rockets Wednesday. Only one reached the area
near the fence separating the Gaza Strip and Israel.
The IDF has distributed flyers warning residents of Beit Hanun to leave
their homes as the army will begin targeting populated areas. Flyers were
also distributed to residents of the Sajaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza City.
The IDF said strikes on the area would not be conducted by artillery units
but will rather be precision fire from land and air.
Senior military sources had said they expected thousands of Beit Hanun
residents to begin leaving their homes en masse Thursday morning.
Palestinian witnesses said an IAF plane fired a missile at the Islamic
University in Gaza City early Thursday morning. No one was hurt, but
university officials decided to evacuate all 60 guards from the complex
after the attack. The IDF said the missile hit an open field next to the
The IAF also bombarded seven roads the military said were being used by
Qassam launch crews, and Israel Navy vessels were involved overnight in
shelling targets in Gaza.
There were no reports of Palestinian casualties following the strikes.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Tuesday that Israel would not balk at
"extreme action" to retrieve Shalit, but stressed that there is no intention
of reoccupying Gaza, from where Israel withdrew some 10 months ago.
The operation to rescue Shalit, dubbed "Summer Rains," was launched after
two days of failed mediation over his release. "We won't hesitate to carry
out extreme action to bring Gilad back to his family," Olmert said.
Shalit was the first to be seized by Palestinian militants since the 1994
abduction of Corporal Nachshon Waxman, a 19-year-old Israeli-American
soldier. At the time, Sayeret Matkal commandos stormed the safe house where
Waxman was held, but he died in the raid along with a member of the rescue
force and three of his Palestinian kidnappers.
Armed groups historically have used captured IDF soldiers, dead or alive, as
a bargaining chip for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.