Security cabinet okays wider IDF operation in Gaza Strip
Large IDF force prepared to capture deep swath of northern Gaza
By Yuval Azoulay and Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondents 5 July 2006
A large contingent of Israel Defense Forces infantry and armor units
prepared to move into the ruins of the former settlements of Nissanit, Dugit
and Elei Sinai in northern Gaza on Wednesday as Palestinian militants fired
more rockets at Ashkelon. The forces are set to enter the area shortly.
The military force was placed on alert after Palestinian Qassam rockets
began striking Ashkelon. Since Tuesday evening, three Qassams have slammed
into the southern coastal city.
Unlike other areas of the Gaza Strip where the IDF has been operating this
past week, this force is preparing for a relatively extended stay that more
than symbolic. They intend to capture a broad swath of territory several
kilometers into Palestinian Authority territory in an effort to hinder
Qassam rocket launch cells now setting their sights on the coastal city of
A permanent military presence in the northern end of the Gaza Strip will
distance the Qassam fire from Ashkelon and - with massive air support - is
liable to make rocket attacks from the northern village of Beit Hanun much
Late Tuesday night, Palestinian officials and witnesses said IDF tanks and
armored personnel carriers entered the former settlements of Nissanit. The
IDF did not immediately confirm the movement.
An AP reporter in the nearby town of Beit Lahia said five IDF tanks,
followed by armored personnel carriers, were making their way very slowly
into the settlement ruins. Two other tanks took up positions atop a nearby
hill as bulldozers built sand embankments around them.
Just before midnight Wednesday, Palestinian witnessnes said an IDF tank
shell hit a car carrying reporters from the Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite TV
channel in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahia. They said there were
apparently some casualties, and ambulances were on the way to the scene.
The IDF had no immediate comment. However, the IDF spokesman said Israel Air
Force aircraft attacked a cell of Hamas militants, apparently a separate
More Qassams hit Ashkelon
Eight people were lightly wounded Wednesday evening when Palestinians in
Gaza fired two Qassam rockets at the southern coastal city of Ashkelon on
Wednesday evening. One of the rockets slammed into a southern neighborhood
and the second landed in the Zikim area. Eight people suffered from shock,
including two seven-year-old children, and were treated by Magen David Adom
Hamas' military wing claimed responsibility for the two Qassam rockets fired
David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, said "Israel will
not allow its cities and towns to be bombarded by Palestinian rocket
attacks. We will take the necessary steps to put an end to these attacks and
to allow our citizens to live in peace in their own homes and communities.
The firing of rockets at Ashkelon is a serious escalation taken by
Palestinian terrorists. Israel will not tolerate these attacks nor any other
attack on its citizens and we will deal with this threat appropriately."
Palestinians first hit Ashkelon with a Qassam on Tuesday evening. Defense
Minister Amir Peretz subsequently instructed the military to intensify its
operations and Israel Air Force missiles hit the Palestinian Interior
Ministry building in Gaza City in a pre-dawn strike Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the security cabinet met Wednesday morning to discuss Israel's
response to the first Qassam strike on the city Tuesday evening. The strike
on Ashkelon was the furthest north that a Qassam fired from Gaza has
reached. The rocket hit an empty parking lot of the ORT Ronson High School
building, causing light damage but no injuries.
The Hamas military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, on Tuesday night claimed
credit for the attack on Ashkelon.
The militant group said the rocket was an upgraded version of the original
Qassam, reaching a range of 15 kilometers. But the IDF later disputed the
claim, saying the rocket possessed a range of 12 kilometers.
The army says the rocket was launched from the northern-most point of the
northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun. The dual-engined rocket traversed the
longest distance of a projectile ever launched from the Gaza Strip.
"This is a major escalation in the war of terror that the Hamas organization
is responsible for," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a Tuesday night
speech at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones. The attack
was an "attempt meant to harm Israeli civilians that live within the
sovereign borders of Israel, and it will have far-reaching consequences,"
the prime minister continued. "The Hamas organization will be the first to
Northern Gaza clashes
Hamas gunmen skirmished earlier in the day with IDF units that moved into
parts of the northern Gaza border town of Beit Hanun, witnesses said.
In Gaza City, three people were wounded in the strike on the Interior
Ministry building, the second such assault in the space of a week, rescue
workers said. Witnesses said missiles hit the main structure again and
damaged a building next to the ministry.
The two top floors of the main building collapsed, and the second building,
which provided housing for ministry employees, was set on fire, witnesses
said. Medics rushed children from the second building to hospital to be
treated for shock.
The IDF operation in Gaza was launched seven days ago, in an effort to
secure the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted from his
military post near the Gaza border in a raid that left two of his comrades
The IAF also targeted an empty school in northern Gaza in the early hours of
Wednesday, which the IDF spokeswoman said was used by Hamas activists at
night. There were no reports of injuries.
At least two Palestinians were killed on Wednesday afternoon in an explosion
in the Gaza Strip's Zeitoun neighborhood. Islamic Jihad operative Abu Ahmed
Dahdouh and an associate died in the blast. Israel denied involvement.