[Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA: It would appear that the rhetoric has already
pretty much dropped the idea that Hamas smuggling in and of itself could
justify military action by Israel.]
Defense official: Fresh Hamas strikes will be met with even greater force
By Amos Harel, Haaretz Correspondent and Agencies Last update - 15:03
Following the withdrawal of all Israel Defense Forces troops from the Gaza
Strip on Wednesday, Defense establishment officials said that Israel would
respond to any renewed attacks on its territory with force even harsher than
it had exhibited during the three-week offensive on Hamas.
"Hamas militants face a simple equation," Foreign Affairs and Defense
Committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi told Army Radio. "If the [rocket] fire
resumes, we will respond with force so strong and overpowering, they will
miss the day the Israel Air Force's offensive began."
The IDF on Wednesday said it had withdrawn all of its soldiers from Gaza,
three and a half weeks after launching Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in
the coastal territory.
"As of this morning, the last of the Israel Defence Forces soldiers have
left the Gaza Strip and the forces have deployed outside of Gaza and are
prepared for any occurrences," an army spokesman said.
The pullout was completed before dawn, according to the army. The IDF said
that troops were poised to respond to any violation of the cease-fire.
Israel sent thousands of troops into the Palestinian territory earlier this
month as part of the bruising 22-day offensive against militants who have
terrorized southern Israel with rocket fire for years.
The timing of the pullout reflected Israeli hopes to defuse the crisis in
Gaza before new U.S. President Barack Obama entered the White House.
Addressing concerns in Israel that Obama would soften Washington's policy
towards Hamas and another Israeli foe, Iran, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said:
"Let's not fear President Obama. I am convinced that President Obama and his
team want to achieve what is essential to Israel - two states for two
peoples," Ramon told Israel Radio.
The IDF said troops remain massed on the Israeli side of the border,
prepared to take action in the event of renewed militant fire. And Israeli
navy ships reportedly shot rounds of machine-gun fire at the beaches of
The military had no immediate comment on the gunboat fire.
Both sides declared cease-fires that went into effect Sunday. But the truce
has been shaky, with firing from both sides.
Israel reported mortar shelling from Gaza on Tuesday. The Palestinians have
said Israeli troops shot to death two farmers since the truce took hold.
The military said some troops remain massed on the Israeli side of the
border prepared to take action against renewed militant fire.
UN estimates Gaza reconstruction could cost $2 billion
The United Nations, whose secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, toured Gaza's
rubble-strewn streets on Tuesday and described the destruction he witnessed
as heartbreaking, has estimated some $330 million is needed for urgent aid
in the coastal enclave.
Reconstruction, if it can be launched in light of the frost between Hamas
and the West, may cost close to $2 billion, according to Palestinian and
The liaison office for civilian territories, meanwhile, said Hamas is
intentionally harming humanitarian aid transferred from Israel by firing
mortars at the Karni, Kissufim and Kerem Shalom crossings. The liaison
office and Shin Bet security service both accused Hamas of looting trucks
bringing supplies into Gaza.
The Shin Bet also reported many instances since the cease-fire of Hamas
members shooting and wounding Fatah activists in Gaza.
IAF hits back at mortar shell launchers
The Israel Air Force on Tuesday attacked areas in the Gaza Strip from which
Palestinians fired mortar shells. The Israel Defense Forces said that about
eight mortar shells were shot from near a central Gaza refugee camp,
apparently by Hamas. Two of the shells landed in the Strip and the rest fell
in open territory in the western Negev near the border.
At this stage, the IDF is holding its fire after its attack at around 6 P.M.
The Palestinians also fired light weapons into Israel on Tuesday, from both
north and south of the Kissufim crossing. An explosive charge was also
apparently set off.
Also Tuesday, the IDF began to discharge reservists who took part in
Operation Cast Lead. Military sources, however, said a harsh aerial response
can be expected if the cross-border attacks continue.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff
Gabi Ashkenazi visited Southern Command headquarters Tuesday and met senior
officers who took part in the operation. Olmert also heard reviews from
Olmert thanked the IDF, Southern Command and the Shin Bet for their
performance during the three-week war. He also commented on criticism from
officers in the three days since the cease-fire took effect.
Olmert said he had considered allowing the army to continue the attack as
GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen Yoav Gallant had sought, but felt this would
have required a period of time "for which we did not a sufficient diplomatic
The IDF plans to expand the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip in the coming
The IDF has also taken preliminary steps to defend military officers against
legal charges abroad stemming from their involvement in Operation Cast Lead.
The full names of battalion commanders involved in the fighting will be
censored to prevent Israeli and international left-wing activists from
attempting to try them for war crimes. The names of more senior officers
cannot be redacted as their involvement and names have been reported by many