The security cabinet has approved the use of artillery fire against the Qassam launchers in the Gaza Strip in response to the barrage of rockets on Sderot over the weekend, as well as the options of targeted assassinations against Hamas members and the continuation of aerial assaults.
Meeting Saturday night, the cabinet ratified Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz's proposal that the IDF be instructed to create buffer zones within the Gaza Strip in areas near the border, in order to move the rocket launchers away from Israeli communities.
Military sources told Haaretz Saturday night that the zones will include neighborhoods as well as open areas. "If necessary, we will create ghost neighborhoods, we will use artillery to prevent the rocket launchers from entering even at the price of removing civilians from their homes," the source said.
The IDF believes stiff measures could induce the Palestinian civilian population to pressure Hamas into showing restraint. The operation, which has been named "First Rain," is expected to continue for a few days.
Although forces have been deployed along the border, neither the government nor the army is eager to reintroduce ground troops into the Gaza Strip. Contradictory opinions were voiced last night about the intentions of Hamas; it is not clear whether the organization intends to continue its attacks on Israeli soil.
The military sources added the military actions are aimed "at creating a new equation, to clarify to the Palestinian organizations that the price of attacks on Israeli territory after the evacuation of the Strip will be unbearable. We won't let them turn Israeli communities close to Gaza into hostages of Hamas," one source said.
The same sources said the Hamas attacks are a violation of Israeli sovereignty and harm Israeli cities located on land whose sovereignty is not in question.
IAF attacks GazaIsraeli helicopters launched three separate attacks late Saturday night and early Sunday morning on Gaza Strip locations believed to facilitate attacks by armed groups on Israeli targets.
The air strikes launched what the military said would be a "prolonged" offensive against Hamas militants in retaliation for the bombardment of Israeli towns with some 40 Qassam rockets over the weekend.
Palestinian sources said that some 20 people were injured in the attacks.
In the latest of the three attacks, Israeli helicopters fired three missiles in the northern Gaza Strip early Sunday morning, striking a weapons-storage facility and the offices of a Palestinian militant group, the army said.
Israel Defense Forces sources said the army attacked a weapons-storage facility in the Jabalya refugee camp used by the Popular Resistance Committees, and struck a building in Beit Hanun housing the offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Residents in Beit Hanun said the PFLP building suffered heavy damage, but said no one was believed to be inside at the time.
Blast strikes schoolA few hours earlier, an Israeli aircraft attacked a school in a crowded Gaza City neighborhood, wounding at least 17 people, Palestinian medical officials said.
The blast struck the Arkam school, which was established by the late founder of the militant Hamas group, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. The army said the building was used by a Hamas-linked foundation to raise money for terrorist attacks.
The blast collapsed part of the school, and caused damage to at least five nearby homes. Hospital officials said women and children were among the wounded, and one person was in serious condition. Electricity in the neighborhood was knocked out, and dozens of people ran in the streets following the attack.
Also Saturday night, Israel Radio reported that an Israeli helicopter fired three missiles at warehouses belonging to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, wounding two people.
Speaking to The Associated Press after the two strikes, Major General Yisrael Ziv, the army's head of operations, said, "It was decided to launch a prolonged and constant attack on the Hamas," Ziv said. He said the attacks would target "all faces" of Hamas.
Asked whether the lives of Hamas' leaders were in danger, he said, "Let them decide for themselves."
Meanwhile, in a large-scale arrest operation in the West Bank throughout Saturday night, the IDF detained for questioning some 80 Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen, confiscating their weapons.
In the town of Bitunya, west of Ramallah, twelve senior Hamas men were arrested, including Sheikh Hassan Yussef and Fathi al Karawi, two particularly influential members of the armed group.
EU: PA must reign in HamasThe U.K. Presidency of the European Union released a statement Saturday evening calling on the Palestinian Authority to reign in militants in the Gaza Strip.
"The Presidency recognises Israel's right to act in self-defence, but calls on Israel to act with restraint," said the statement.
The IDF carried out three air strikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing four members of Hamas and injuring nine other people in a return to a policy of assassinating militants.
The IDF attacks followed a barrage of Qassam rockets into Israel, which Hamas said were in response to Israel's strike at the Hamas rally in Jabalya refugee camp on Friday, in which 16 were killed, including eight civilians and four children, and 80 injured.
Early Saturday morning, the air force bombed munition warehouses in the Jabalya, Tel al-Hawa and Zeitun areas, lightly injuring three Palestinians.
Saturday afternoon, IAF jets launched an air strike at two vehicles in Gaza's Zeitun quarter, killing four men. The IDF said one of the vehicles had been carrying weapons and the other was carrying Hamas members.
An eye witness said a group of children had been playing nearby at the time of the strike on the vehicles and it appeared that some of them were wounded.
Palestinian sources said those killed were Hamas activists who were delivering rockets to the launching teams.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri promised retaliation for the air strikes.
Intelligence sources told Mofaz Saturday the blast at Jabalya refugee camp was likely the result of a "work accident," the explosions may have been set off when two pickup trucks carrying masked militants and laden with weapons blew up.
The PA said the explosion was caused by Hamas "mishandling explosives." However, Hamas held news conferences blaming Israel and said the rockets were dummies that did not contain explosives.
Hamas reported that three of its militants were killed in the explosions, including As'ad Rian, the brother of Nizar Rian, a senior member of the group's political wing.
The group said "thousands of eye witnesses saw" that an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle fired missiles into the rally and that Israeli helicopters were seen over Gaza during the march.
Israeli sources said the helicopters were there following Islamic Jihad's Qassam firing a few hours earlier, and did not shoot any missiles at the rally participants.
The IDF denied the army's involvement in firing into the rally.
A total of more than 40 Qassam rockets were fired into Israel over the weekend. Six Israelis in the Negev town of Sderot were wounded, one moderately and the others lightly, the army said. Six others were treated for shock.
Islamic Jihad took responsibility for Friday's attack, claiming it was in retaliation for the killing of three Islamic Jihad leaders in Tul Karm earlier in the day.
Early Friday, police officers from an elite anti-terror unit entered a village near Tul Karm in search of Jihad activists suspected of being involved in the suicide bombings at Tel Aviv's Stage club and Hasharon shopping center. The wanted men fled into an open area outside the village, where the police shot two of them them dead. The third was found and killed nearby.
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