Why did Israel decide on military action that caused so many Palestinian deaths in the northern Gaza Strip so soon after the prime minister announced his intention of dismantling many of the settlements in that area?

Was the purpose to show the Palestinians that the decision to withdraw was not a victory for them or for terror?

And some will pose additional questions about yesterday's action. For example, was the goal to hit Hamas in order to prevent it from gaining control of the Gaza Strip in the future?

What is clear is that at least five Hamas members and one member of the Palestinian Authority's security forces were among the 15 people declared dead by the Palestinians. The son of Fatah's secretary in the Strip, who was one of the slain, was also known to be a Hamas militant who served as a bodyguard to Hamas's spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

One of the indirect gains from the operation was the killing of Hanni Abu Sukheileh, one of the chief suspects in the death of three Americans who escorted a diplomatic convoy to the Gaza Strip last October 15.

Despite numerous appeals by the Americans to the PA and its security forces in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian "investigation" has to date revealed nothing.

The IDF had general information about the area in which Abu Sukheileh lived, but his death yesterday was fortuitous.

The operation, which was approved a few days ago, was carried out by a battalion from the Givati Brigade accompanied by an armored force.

It was of the same magnitude, give or take, as the action in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza two weeks ago. The difference was in the operational goals: The forces did not have a specific objective, but were merely attempting to make combative contact with Hamas gunmen and squads. This is the region from which Hamas usually fires Qassam rockets at Israeli targets, though there has been a decline in the number of Qassam attacks recently. Prior to yesterday's launches, the last Qassam rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip at Sderot was on February 6. That same day, rockets were also fired at Gush Katif.

The stimulus provided by the IDF's entry achieved its goal and the Palestinians immediately opened fire, leading to clashes with Hamas squads, which did not stand much of a chance.

The fact that this was for the most part a daylight action made it easier for the IDF to identify gunmen from a distance.

The Palestinians were furious over the large number of casualties they suffered, and shortly afterward, they fired two Qassams at Israel. It is clear that a psychological confrontation will now begin and that the Fatah organization in the northern West Bank could well join in. In view of the prime minister's withdrawal declaration, the IDF can be expected to continue to flex its muscles. Hamas, for its part, will try to prove that the momentum of "the Palestinian victory" that brought about this declaration is unstoppable, and it will also increase its efforts to take control of the Gaza Strip.