Israeli troops probe urban areas in Gaza City

Israeli troops have pushed into outlying neighborhoods in Gaza City, possibly signaling the onset of a new phase in the ground operation launched 17 days ago. Although in the first two days of the ground offensive the Israeli military had surrounded Gaza City, so far Israeli troops have not entered the dense urban sprawl of the Gaza Strip cities.

Now hundreds of Israeli troops have advanced several blocks into the neighborhoods of Zaytoun, Sheikh Ajleen, Tuffah, Tal el Hawa, Shejaeya, and Zeitun on the southern and eastern edge of Gaza City, according to reports.

Heavy fighting has also been reported in Beit Lahiya and Jabaliya, northeast of Gaza City.

Israeli troops, backed by air and artillery, also have moved into the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis; the operation appears to have been a raid.

Thousand of reserve troops that were called up at the beginning of the operation have entered the fight in Gaza. Additional reserve forces are in training to conduct operations for urban fighting.

No Israeli casualties have been reported during Monday’s move into Gaza or Khan Younis. And in the 17 days of fighting so far, only 13 Israeli soldiers have been killed, compared to more than 350 Hamas fighters. Palestinian officials in Gaza claim an estimated 600 civilians have been killed.

Hamas has suffered significant casualties in some areas, a senior Israeli defense official told Ynet News.

“Hundreds of people were killed in the various combat sectors,” the officer told the news agency. “Some Hamas companies and battalions were simply wiped out. We also see cases of desertions and unauthorized leaves, while some terror activists are scared to undertake moves that would jeopardize them vis-à-vis IDF troops.”

Hamas is estimated to have between 15,000 and 20,000 armed fighters in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli Defense Force has made leaders of Hamas’ military and rocket and mortar teams a priority target. The leader of Hamas’ rocket teams in Gaza City was killed on Jan 10, while the Israeli Air Force destroyed the home of the leader of Hamas’ military wing in an air strike.

Israeli commanders said rockets fired from Gaza have been reduced by 50 percent since the operation began. But Hamas has been able to launch salvos despite ground and air operations. Hamas fired more than 21 rockets into Israel today.

Hamas may be under pressure to continue fighting despite a recent statement by Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political leader in the Gaza Strip, that he might be willing to implement a cease-fire. Iran has warned Hamas that its funding would be shut off if it cut a deal with the Israelis, an Egyptian government official told The Jerusalem Post.

“As soon as the Iranians heard about the Egyptian cease-fire initiative, they dispatched the two officials to Damascus on an urgent mission to warn the Palestinians against accepting it,” the Egyptian government official said.

“The Iranians threatened to stop weapons supplies and funding to the Palestinian factions if they agreed to a cease-fire with Israel,” the official continued. “The Iranians want to fight Israel and the US indirectly. They are doing this through Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Khaled Mashal, the overall leader of Hamas, who is based in Damascus, Syria, has called for Hamas to continue fighting.

Over the weekend both Hamas and Israel rejected the United Nations Security Council resolution to immediately implement a cease-fire.

But not all Palestinians are eager to continue the fighting. The spokesman for Fatah, the political party of President Mahmood Abbas, exposed the deep divisions between the rival Palestinian parties when he mocked Mashal.

“Khaled Mashal was talking [on Al-Jazeera] as if the Hamas tanks were surrounding Tel Aviv,” he said. “It’s obvious that Mashal has never been to the Gaza Strip and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Another unnamed Fatah official said Hamas officials would be tried as “war criminals” and labeled the group as a proxy of both Iran and Syria.

“The Iranians and Syrians are using Hamas to undermine the Palestinian Authority and other moderate Arab governments,” the Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post. “Victory for Hamas in this war would mean victory for Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. This is something we need to prevent.”

Hamas ousted Fatah from power in the Gaza Strip during running street battles last summer. Scores of Fatah fighters were killed or captured during the fighting.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • s. berman says:

    All the fashionable Europeans are outraged at what Israel is now doing. How strange that no one spoke of outrage concerning the thousands of rockets the terrorists fired at civilians in Israel. But I should know better. Killing Jews doesn’t count. Collectively, Europe has killed millions of them. Europe was just fine with what Hitler was doing until all at once they realized that Hitler was a threat to the rest of the Europeans and not just a threat to the Jews. Prior to that he was merely doing more efficiently what Europe had sanctioned and done for centuries. And, of course, the Muslims largely signed on with Hitler and supported him during WWII.
    Today the Muslims kill Jews, as they always have, and Hindus and Christian missionaries and–of course–other Muslims of different sects (or sometimes the same sect). No one cares. Especially not most members of the European communities. But let the Jews (or Hindus or Christians) fight back effectively and all of a sudden mere self defense is wrong.
    Israel should fight on and win this decisively. They should destroy every rocket and every tunnel in Gaza. They should let the world know in no uncertain terms that they will not roll over for Islamic imperialism.
    I’d love to see the British reaction if rockets from terrorists were hitting London or the French reaction if they were hitting Paris. But, of course, that can’t happen. The Muslims love European liberal open society. They may blow up a few buses now and then, but so what? The Muslim governments have a lot of oil and money. We must not offend them.

  • IK says:

    What’s been interesting is the lack of response from all the anti-Israeli actors.
    West Bank – nothing big.
    Lebanon – two rockets from H, with plausible denilablity by saying they didn’t know who did it.
    Syria – nothing
    Iran – nothing
    Egypt – as much on the Israeli side as they can be. Actively blaming Hamas for the war, and not bailing them out in any fashion.
    Europe – the usual scum in Saturday marches, but less people than turn out for some footie game between Motherwall and Dundee.
    Hamas – they had 3 years to get ready for an Israeli invasion, and the best they can do is fire 5-10 glofired roman candles per day at South Israel and play up the victim card? If I was Iran, I’d be pissed that I spent years and lots of cash and the best they can do is to fire motors from a school and then hope lots of civilians get hit with counter fire.

  • Alex says:

    Regardless of how many virgins in Heaven they get, taking company-sized losses can’t be good for morale.
    I’ve been saying, Hamas is running out of friends and running out of options. Unlike Hezbollah which can merrily stroll into Syria to stock up on weapons coming in from Iran, Hamas is trapped between Israel, Egypt, and Fatah loyalists who fought an open war with Hamas in 2007.
    While my predilection would be for Israel to not accept a cease fire until Hamas is militarily neutralized, I don’t see how Hamas can recover even with a premature cease fire. They’re starting to look more and more like the Mahdi Army in March 2008–first making a stand in Basra against the Iraqi Army, and then falling apart as the pressure started ramping up.

  • jinamerica says:

    It’s truly amazing how the leaders of Hamas who live in Syria can dictate the happenings in Gaza. They are a gutless crew, who have left the arabs of gaza out to dry.
    I hope eventually these so called leaders in hiding are caught and hanged. Go Israel keep fighting until all hamas has leaders are dead.

  • tyrone says:

    IK wrote: “What’s been interesting is the lack of response from all the anti-Israeli actors. ”
    I wonder how much of the lack of response is due to the history of the war in Iraq. Non-radical Muslims who have paid attention to the Iraq war must notice some things (even if they get most of their news from Al-Jazera (sp?)):
    1. The US prosecuted punished soldiers who have killed innocent civilians in a non-accidental way. And this type of incident is rare because of extremely good training in the rules of war.
    2. The Islamist radicals use of torture and murder is unrestrained – and most of the people they were killing were other Muslims. Any society they form lives in fear of the terrorist/totalitarian nature of the leaders. The rule is do as I say or have your head sawed off. As in most totalitarian societies, people live their lives in fear.
    3. The US is not stealing the Iraqi oil, in spite of radical media accusations. Clearly contracts have been let to international oil companies and this is under the control of the elected (by the people) Iraqi government.
    4. The US is withdrawing from Iraq on a timetable, now that the Iraqi forces are strong enough to fill in the gaps in security (at least partially), only staying on as long as the Iraqi government requests. The US did not intervene to conquer and rule, but only to replace the dictator because he was deemed a threat to the world (perhaps erroneously, but he would not allow full and open WMD inspections leading to the belief he was hiding something).
    5. Even in Sadr City, it was clear the Mahdi Army was a group of thugs who were preying on their own people and once the threat of violence was removed, the people no longer supported them.
    6. Israel pulled out of Gaza, removed all settlements, and negotiated a cease fire. The Palestinians still have valid grievances in Gaza, but it was their state to run. Hamas has accomplished little to nothing in building a society or an economy or an education system. They have accomplished smuggling in weapons and attacking Israel and making their own people live in fear of Hamas, and of the results of Hamas’ provocation of Israel. Where is the gain in this strategy? There is none, and most of the world sees it. Who would want to live under Hamas’ rule? Only those with nothing but hatred in their hearts. Not normal people.
    The situation is obviously way more complex that what I have stated. And as I said there are some grievances. But violence as an approach to solving the problem has accomplished little to nothing in 50 years. Much of the Arab world is looking to Iraq and the behavior of the Islamic Radicals (Fascists) vs the Elected Government and the US forces – which way would you rather live?
    My hope is that most in the Arab world see this for what it is. Islam is a great religion. The Fascists, clever with their words, are trying (with some success) to divert it in their grab for power. But their actions and behaviors give them away. If their was not Israel and US to hold up as “devils”, they would need other “devils” to point at and use to deceive the people in order to get what they want.

  • What is probably driving the Iranians crazy is the muted response from the rest of the Muslim world regarding Israel’s invasion of Gaza. The Egyptians and the Syrians are probably sick and tired of Hamas, and Hezbollah is smart enough not to get involved in this fight for fear of getting whacked like they did back in 2006. If Hezbollah achieves any more “victories”

  • plainslow says:

    Isn’t this an oppurtunity to have someone else, say a Sunni country, to fund them, and hurt Iran by doing so? If gaza was funded without weapons, thier people might even like living.

  • remoteman says:

    It is coming time for the Gazans themselves to choose between peace and suffering. Hopefully the elimination, or at least the de-fanging, of Hamas in Gaza will enable the ability to make this choice, without fear of reprisal.
    Hamas seems to be on their own. This is clearly an opportunity for Egypt and Jordan (and thus Saudi) to poke a collective finger in Iran’s eye by letting Iran’s surrogate succumb to defeat.
    I only hope that some time after this campaign the people of Gaza choose a different path.

  • jayc says:

    Actually, Iran DID do something. They sent a couple of representatives to Damascus to inform the Hamas resistance that if they sue for peace, then Iran will effectively cut them off from any future weapons acquisition. Way to go Ahmadenijad! Strong arm your proxies into continuing a conflict against a superior, determined and veteran Israeli Army. My question is this; if Hamas does continue the fight, who will be left to man the Grads and Katyushas that you offer? Perhaps Muqtada Al Sadr can offer up some excellent advice on how to have your men bleed on the opposing infantrymans shoe. Idiots.

  • rmwarnick says:

    Let’s not forget that at one time Israel backed Hamas in order to undermine Fatah. Blowback and shifting alliances– welcome to the Middle East.

  • RW says:

    More supberb work by Bill Roggio. This site is more full of up-to-date information than the fully funded alphabet networks.
    We are approaching an end game and it would be interesting to know what Fatah is prepared to do with a defanged Hamas in their midst. Surely they haven’t forgotten about their people being taken out into the streets and shot in front of their families. Hamas of course would like to continue doing their usual business.
    The comments against the Hamas leadership in Damascus is cutting and Israel would have no issue with Fathah going back into Gaza and settling that score.
    That may be the best outcome one can hope for as any ceasefire that leaves Hamas intact to claims their “great victory” is sure to be nauseating with all the civilians that have paid for Hamas’ victory in their blood.
    Iran’s mullahs should have their noses rubbed in it. Go IDF.

  • Daniel says:

    Go IDF you got the rats in a corner.

  • HK_Vol says:

    One reason why Hezbollah isn’t attacking is that they got a good dressing down after their antics of two years ago. How so? Some of the biggest investors in Beirut prior to the Hezbollah outbreak were others in the Middle East with most of them Muslims and many of them from Saudi Arabia. After the antics, the value of their Beirut investments went straight south. Hezbollah was given the message – no more violence or no more funding from us (Saudis, etc.).
    Money talks

  • Greg says:

    So how much longer do you think this will last?

  • Joakim Ekström says:

    I believe Fatah, while hating Hamas and striving to get PA in control of all Palestinian territories, is deeply afraid of being seen as “collaborators” on the Arab street. This is a dilemma for them. They’ve said that they cannot return to Gaza on the back of an Israeli tank. This, I believe, is why they argue for international forces. Maybe they perceive the international forces handing over security responsibility to the PA after only a few hours on the ground. To use “international forces” as a symbolic Trojan horse to be able to enter the Gaza strip without losing street cred.
    It’s difficult to do damage assessment in real time. In Iraq, for example, it was found out afterwards that Al Qaeda were in a much more dire situation in 2007 than what was thought at the time. Letters were later intercepted in which Al Qaeda operatives described how they had to kidnap allied tribal members only to get money to buy gas, for example. Perhaps the entire Hamas organization presently is on the verge of collapse. It’s difficult to know right now, but we will find out shortly. I’m quite sure however that the romantic fighting many Hamas terrorists envisioned must have faded, and that the phrase “fight to the death” all of a sudden has gotten an acutely real and very direct meaning.

  • Mark Pyruz says:

    The story that Iran will cut off funding if Hamas accepts a ceasefire is coming from Egyptian sources, and is suspect.
    The Iran-Hamas narrative to this conflict is promoted by far-right Israelis, eager for an expanded war in the region.

  • Meremortal says:

    Mark Pyruz writes:
    “The story that Iran will cut off funding if Hamas accepts a ceasefire is coming from Egyptian sources, and is suspect.”
    OK, I’ll take it with a grain of salt.
    “The Iran-Hamas narrative to this conflict is promoted by far-right Israelis, eager for an expanded war in the region.”
    What is your evidence for that statement, please? What do far-right Israelis have to gain from an expanded war in the region? What about center-right Israelis, what are they eager to do? Thanks in advance.

  • Neo says:

    Mark Pyruz wrote:
    “The Iran-Hamas narrative to this conflict is promoted by far-right Israelis, eager for an expanded war in the region.”
    What on earth are you talking about? Iran openly supports and funds Hamas. It makes no secret out of it. The narrative is coming strait out of Iran in both Farsi and English. Try doing a little reading.


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