As the third day of Israel’s ground operation in Gaza ends, the Israeli military indicated it may expand operations in the southern portion of the strip after focusing primarily on the north.
Fighting between the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas has largely been reported in the northern areas of the Gaza Strip. The IDF has surrounded Gaza City and is heavily engaged in Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanun, Jabalya, Saja’iya, and Atatra. While operating in Gaza, Israeli forces have encountered mortar fire, snipers, suicide bombers, and houses rigged to explode. Israeli troops killed a suicide bomber in northern Gaza as he attempted to detonate his vest in the midst of Israeli soldiers.
Six Israeli soldiers have been killed since ground operations began; five have been killed in the past 24 hours. The IDF believes 100 Hamas fighters and several Islamic Jihad fighters were killed yesterday and another 10 were killed today. More than 150 Hamas fighters have been detained.
More than 30 Palestinian civilians were reported to have been killed after Hamas fighters launched mortars from a United Nations school at Israeli troops, who returned fire. Hamas reportedly rigged the school with IEDs, and secondary explosions killed and wounded the civilians taking shelter at the school.
Israeli forces continue to target the homes of Hamas military leaders. Ayman Siam, the founder of Hamas’ rocket program and commander of the artillery program throughout Gaza, was killed after Israeli troops and the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, attacked his home in Jabaliya.
The operation in Gaza is said to have disrupted communications between Hamas’ political leadership in Gaza and the armed terrorist wing of the party known as the Izzadin Kassam. Political leaders in Gaza have gone in hiding.
Khalid Mashal, the senior political leader of Hamas who is based out of Damascus in Syria, is said to be providing direct orders to the Izzadin Kassam. Mashal has given the Izzadin Kassam “full freedom to take any measures it deems necessary to prevent the collapse of the Hamas regime,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
Several days ago, Hamas started to seek out and punish “collaborators” and political enemies in the Gaza Strip. Hamas arrested and maimed more than 100 opposing Fatah members and collaborators. Six Palestinians accused of providing information on the location of Hamas leaders to Israeli intelligence were executed in the past two days.
Despite the Israeli offensive, Hamas was able to launch more than 40 rockets into southern Israel on Tuesday. The Israeli military said the presence of troops in northern Gaza has stopped Hamas from launching missiles at the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beersheba.
As the military operation expands in Gaza, Israel’s political leadership appears eager for the Gaza incursion to end.
“The sooner, the better,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz when asked when the operation would end. “We did not set out to occupy Gaza or kill every terrorist. We set out to bring change to the south.”
Olmert indicated Israel is seeking a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Gaza. “There are different ideas for a diplomatic solution,” he said. “I am currently in discussions regarding them with many leaders around the world. The result must be an effective blockading of the Philadelphi Route, with supervision and follow-ups.” Hundreds of Palestinian smuggling tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt cross the Philadelphi Route.
Israel, under the leadership of Olmert, accepted a negotiated settlement with Hezbollah at the end of the war in Lebanon in 2006. The United Nations provided monitors and peacekeepers to observe in southern Lebanon. But Hezbollah is said to have consolidated control in scores of villages south of the Litani River and has replenished its arsenal of rockets with the aid of Syria and Iran.
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