Da Ha'aretz del 06/07/2006
Originale su http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArtVty.jhtml?itemNo=735143

IDF prepares to retake northern Gaza

di Aluf Benn, Amos Harel

A large Israel Defense Forces contingent prepared last night to move into the ruins of former Israeli settlements Dugit, Elei Sinai and Nissanit in the northern Gaza Strip after midnight. The security cabinet authorized the operation, intended to prevent Qassam rocket fire into Ashkelon.

A few hours before the operation began, the second rocket in 24 hours was fired toward central Asheklon.

The new contingent of troops is preparing for a relatively extended stay, unlike in other areas of the Gaza Strip where the IDF has been operating this past week.

It intends to capture a broad swath of territory of about one-and-a-quarter kilometers into Palestinian Authority territory, close to Beit Hanun, in an effort to hinder Qassam rocket launchers from targeting Ashkelon and to push them back toward Gaza City and the Jabalya refugee camp.

The operation, consisting of Golani infantry, armored and engineering forces is under the command of Golani Brigade commander Colonel Tamir Yadai.

At a later stage, the IDF intends to reduce the forces, but to launch raids into the Gaza Strip, including built-up areas, as required, accompanied by massive air force activity over the areas where the Qassam rockets were fired from.

At this stage, Israel does not intend to enter densely-populated areas in the Palestinian towns and villages, but if the Qassam fire persists from there, raids into these areas may be held at later stages.

The IDF is concerned by the possible firing of anti-tank missiles or activating bombs at the forces.

Large IDF forces are continuing to act in three additional areas in the Gaza Strip - the Eerez pass, outskirts of Beit Hanun in the northern strip and in the Dahaniya airport in the southern area.

Eight people, including two seven-year-old children, suffered from shock yesterday evening when Palestinians in Gaza fired a Qassam rocket at Ashkelon. The rocket slammed into a southern neighborhood close to the center of town.

Another rocket landed in the Zikim area and a third landed near kibbutz Nahal Oz. Hamas' military wing claimed responsibility for the rocket.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz yesterday authorized the expansion of the IDF operation in the Gaza Strip, Operation Summer Rains, following the security cabinet meeting. The cabinet decided to prepare for an "extended, gradual operation."

They also decided to increase assassinations, in an effort to strike at Hamas activists in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel intends to concentrate its efforts against the Hamas' military wing and threaten its civilian leadership.

The cabinet meeting shifted the emphasis of the operation in Gaza from bringing the captured soldier Gilad Shalit home to hindering Qassam fire.

The ministers were told that Israel did not know where Shalit was being held, but knew that he was alive, was in the Gaza Strip and was being well looked after.

Olmert emphasized the importance of the international support for Israel's moves, and said it was important to carry out the operation in such a way that would not harm its legitimacy. It is therefore important to avoid harming Palestinian civilians who are not involved in terror, he said.

Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Minister Meir Sheetrit supported Olmert. Minister Avi Dichter suggested ordering the IDF to bring about the complete cessation of Qassam fire.

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."

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