March 1, 2008

As we have indicated for some time, enough is enough, and Israel has launched a major ground and air operation into the northern Gaza Strip, which is not likely to be what could be called a reoccupation, but a temporary in and out operation. I am hoping this action will eventually lead to a long term hudna (truce) somewhere on down the line.

The Articles from DEBKAfile and the Jerusalem Post give the details of the current status of the operation.

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Begin DEBKAfile Report

Fires blaze in Ashkelon’s shopping center from direct rocket hit Saturday amid heavy battles in N. Gaza

March 1, 2008, 5:20 PM (GMT+02:00)

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that after 21 missiles slammed into Ashkelon and Sderot and their environs overnight, Israeli Givati Brigade troops backed by tanks, self-propelled guns, F-16 fighters and helicopters went after terrorist targets in Sejaya and Jebalya, N. Gaza Strip early morning Saturday, March 1. Five Israeli soldiers were injured, two very seriously. The Palestinians report 35 dead, 15 in battle, the rest civilians including 5 children, as well as 120 injured.

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Two waves of Grad rockets hit the Israeli town of Ashkelon for the third day running.

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Two crashed into a house, injuring 5 people, two of them children. There were dozens of shock victims. Another 11 Qassam missiles explode at Sderot Saturday.

Our military sources report the Israeli military command is now targeting Hamas rule of the Gaza Strip as ultimately the only effective way of halting the Palestinian missile offensive against civilian locations. It therefore proposes to systematically destroy Hamas institutions one by one until its rule of Gaza caves in.

This tactic was presented to prime minister Ehud Olmert Friday on his return from Japan. If Hamas alternatively decides it can no longer afford the exorbitant price exacted by the Israeli military for sustaining its missile offensive, so much the better.

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Meanwhile, the port town of Ashdod north of Ashkelon and 27 km from Gaza is preparing for start of Palestinian rockets attacks.

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Twelve alert systems are ready.

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The IDF has set itself the following targets:

Every Palestinian military and security installation belonging to Hamas, as well as its Al Dawa social welfare branches used as meeting places and the money changers’ places of business.

A series of ground operations on the same lines as the Sejayia raid will be launched to drive Hamas and its allied terrorist groups out of northern Gaza – the sites of most missile launches against Ashkelon and Sderot.

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Once this part of the territory is purged, Israeli military control can be exercised without reoccupation.

DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources report that Hamas leaders are well aware of the IDF’s revamped tactics and have employed counter-measures.

1. Their heads of government, armed wings and clerical authorities have gone to ground.

2. Their rank and file have taken over an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 civilian homes around Gaza City active and set up a wall for the town’s defense. Each home is provisioned with sufficient ammo, water and food for three weeks’ combat.

3. All Hamas operatives have dumped their cell phones and all means of communication which could betray their whereabouts. Orders and messages are carried by courier, usually children.

4. Thousands of missiles and rockets of different types are stocked in private homes and schools inside Gaza City and its refugee camps to escape Israeli attacks.

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This stratagem allows Hamas to calibrate its missile barrages on Israeli civilians according to the intensity of Israeli strikes against them.

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Begin Jerusalem Post Article

33 Palestinians killed during ongoing IDF raids in Gaza Strip

Ap and Jpost staff, THE JERUSALEM POST

March 1, 2008

Thirty-three Palestinians have been killed on Saturday and at least 40 have been wounded in an IDF operation meant to combat the ongoing Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli cities in the western Negev.

According to Palestinian sources, at least 16 of those killed were civilians, including a baby reported to have been struck when a Palestinian rocket misfired, as well as two teenagers. Palestinian gunmen bombarded Israel with 40 rockets and mortar rounds by early afternoon, undeterred by Israeli troops backed by tanks and attack aircrafts.

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Five IDF troops were wounded during the operations, two lightly to moderately, and three lightly.

In all, 63 Palestinians have been killed since clashes between Israel and Hamas terrorists sparked Wednesday when an Israeli student at Sapir College in Sderot was killed by a Kassam rocket.

Hamas said the baby, Malak Karfaneh, was killed and three other civilians were wounded in an Israeli strike on Beit Hanun, a northern town where Palestinians often launch rockets at Israel. But local residents said one of those rockets fell short and landed in the area of the baby’s house.

The IDF, which sent troops, tanks and aircraft after Gaza rocket squads, said it only attacks rocket-launching operations, but noted that terrorists sometimes operate within civilian areas.

Fierce fighting erupted Saturday east of the town of Jebaliya, and at least nine Palestinians were killed, medical officials said. Among those killed were at least three gunmen, but also four civilians, including a 17-year-old girl and her 16-year-old brother and a 45-year-old man and his 20-year-old son, the officials said.

At around midnight on Friday the IDF said it attacked an armaments factory in the central Gaza Strip and a rocket launcher in the north Gaza.

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At the same time, Palestinians said Eid al-Ashram, a weapons expert, was killed by an IAF missile in an open area in northern Gaza.

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i told Army Radio that Israel had “no other choice” but to launch a massive military operation in Gaza.

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“We will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate, whether in air strikes or on the ground,” Vilna’i said.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, dismissed Vilnai’s comments, saying: “We are not afraid of these threats.”

The IDF has notified the government it is ready to launch a major ground offensive as soon as it is ordered to do so, defense officials said. Noth ing is expected for the next week or two,

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in part because the military prefers to wait for clearer weather, they added.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Israel to stop all attacks in Gaza and urged

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Palestinians to halt the rocket fire. “It is in the interest of the Palestinian people not to give Israel any pretext to continue its aggressions,” a statement from his office said.

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US State Department spokesman Tom Casey denounced Hamas’s rocket attacks as “completely unacceptable” and demanded they stop. He also said the US regularly urges Israel to consider the consequences of its actions and to pay careful attention to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.

Rockets have been fired at Israel throughout the day.

Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, claimed responsibility for firing five rockets at Israel, one of which misfired, wounding five Gazans.

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Meanwhile, Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has postponed his upcoming trip to Israel, planned for the middle of next week.

Suleiman informed Defense Minister Ehud Barak of his decision on Friday morning.

Jerusalem officials estimated that the reason for the postponement was the escalation in the Gaza Strip and also cited Suleiman’s concerns that the IDF is about to embark on a large-scale operation in the territory.

Cairo is trying to arrange anther date for the trip, Israel Radio reported.

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