Israel Defense Forces infantry troops and tanks advanced several hundred meters into the Gaza Strip at two points Thursday evening, following four Israel Air Force attacks on Gaza that left at least six Palestinians dead. (Click here for map)
Among the dead were a senior Hamas official and two brothers, 10 and 12. Their father sustained serious wounds that left him in a vegetative state.
The IDF took up positions in the Gaza Strip west of Sderot, as well as at the ruins of former settlements Nisanit and Elei Sinai. But the IDF said that the troops are not preparing for an extensive operation in the Strip.
The IDF tanks entered Gaza earlier Thursday, securing lookout positions just inside the northern Strip.
Palestinian militants fired some 30 Qassam rockets at the western Negev on Thursday, one of which slammed into a high school on the outskirts of Sderot, lightly wounding two people.
After the tanks entered Gaza, the IAF reported a fifth air strike on Gaza in which the house of a Qassam rocket maker was hit. The IDF reported that the man had been inside the house during the strike, but his condition in unknown.
Earlier Thursday, in the first IAF strike, a Hamas Executive Force compound in Gaza City was hit, killing a Hamas militant and wounding more than 40 people. The compound was reduced to rubble. IDF sources reported that the compound had housed militants who were planning terror attacks against Israel.
Later, the IAF fired missiles at car belonging to Hamas in Gaza City, killing two militants. Hamas identified one of the dead as Imad Shbana, a senior member of the organization.
Later Thursday, the IAF hit Gaza City for a third time, striking a Hamas position in the city and killing at least one militant.
The IAF carried out a fourth strike on Thursday evening, firing a missile at a vehicle in southern Gaza at sundown. Israel confirmed the strike, saying that the vehicle had been carrying members of the militant Islamic Jihad organization.
The Palestinian security officials said the vehicle was a small truck belonging to the Rafah town council and had been on its way to inspect a garbage dump. Since such vehicles are sometimes used to carry rockets, the officials said, it might have been a case of mistaken identity.
Two brothers, aged 10 and 12, had been riding in the vehicle with their father. Both brothers were killed in the strike, and their father sustained serious wounds which rendered him clinically dead.
Hamas militants said they fired three rockets from that area shortly before the airstrike. Hamas' armed wing threatened to resume suicide bombings in Israel after the first attack leveled the multi-story Executive Force compound.
"This is an open war launched against Hamas. All options are open, including martyrdom operations," said Abu Ubaida, spokesman of Hamas' armed wing.
Hamas' Damascus-based political leader Khaled Meshal told the organization's Al-Aqsa Television on Thursday that the air strikes created an "historic opportunity" to unite warring Palestinian factions against Israel.
Israel said the strikes were in response to the heavy barrage of rockets fired at its Negev towns over the past few days.
"We have had enough. Israel will take all defensive measures to protect our citizens from these Hamas rockets," Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said before the air strike.
Following a decision by Olmert on Wednesday, the military prepared to take "harsh" measures in an effort to stem new attacks.
On Thursday afternoon, Israel Defense Forces tanks crossed into the northern Gaza Strip, taking up what an army spokesman termed "defensive positions" just inside the territory.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack urged restraint on all sides but said Israel had the right to respond to rocket attacks from Hamas.
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