Report: IDF operation in Gaza Strip to last several more days
PM: Offensive will end when Qassam fire is curbed; 48 Gazans killed so far in Beit Hanun raid.
Military sources believe the current IDF operation in the Gaza Strip is likely to last several more days, Army Radio reported on Monday.
It said IDF troops had hit a Palestinian Qassam rocket crew early on Monday, but details were initially unavailable.
On Sunday, three Palestinians, including two militants, were killed by the Israel Defense Forces in Beit Hanun on Sunday, as the IDF continued its offensive in the Gaza Strip against Palestinian rocket fire directed at Israel.
Palestinians identified the dead militants, killed in gun battles with the IDF, as 23-year-old Mahdi al-Hamadin of Hamas and Wissam Obayed of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. A third Palestinian gunmen was seriously injured.
There were indications that violence had also spread to the West Bank where according to initial reports, IDF troops wounded two armed Palestinians during patrols for wanted men in and around Nablus.
Early Sunday morning 38-year-old Mazen Shabaat was killed by IDF fire. According to Palestinian sources, Shabaat was arrested by the IDF and taken in for questioning. He was subsequently released, and on his way back home was shot and killed.
The bodies of three additional Palestinians were discovered in Beit Hanun overnight on Sunday. The three were identified as 16-year-old Mohammed Ba'alusha, 18-year-old Omar Amar, and 21-year-old Zalaa Nasser.
The deaths bring the total number of Palestinians killed since the offensive began Wednesday to 48, of which at least 16 were civilians.
According to the IDF, 10 Qassam rockets were fired toward the western Negev on Sunday, four of which hit the Sderot area.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday refused to say exactly when the IDF offensive in the Gaza Strip would end, confirming only that the operation would continue until Palestinian rocket attacks significantly decrease.
"We have declared that we will never accept the ongoing Qassam fire and that we would take any steps needed to considerably reduce the fire and prevent terror activity," Olmert told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. "The operation is limited in time but we have no intention of announcing when it will end."
"When we reach the conclusion that the effectiveness of the operation is bringing us closer to reaching the goals, we will definitely pull our forces out of Gaza," he added. "We have no intention to occupy Gaza."
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that so far, the IDF's offensive in Gaza was going as planned. "The operation in Gaza is being administered according to a focused plan - the IDF has taken control of most of Beit Hanun, including the casba. We have no intention of occupying Gaza again, but to continue with our focused plan."
IDF troops killed 27 Palestinians, including 11 civilians, over the weekend in Gaza. At least 11 of the 27 fatalities were civilians, and include two members of rescue crews, and a 12-year-old girl who was killed Saturday evening by IDF snipers in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanun.
Two IDF soldiers were also wounded, one of them seriously.
Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh, turning aside fierce Palestinian criticism of the current IDF operation, said Sunday that Hamas and not Israel bore responsibility for the bloodshed.
"Who has the moral right to come to us with complaints?" Sneh told Army Radio, after Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas said that IAF bombings in Gaza could kill kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Referring to Qassam rocket attacks against the Negev following Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Strip, Sneh said "After the IDF left Gaza, these terrorists turned Beit Hanun into a base for launching rockets solely at a civilian population.
"All those who are crying out should be directing that cry at Hamas, and not at us," he said.
A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, a Gaza-based Palestinian terror organization, announced Saturday that if the IDF operation is not stopped within 48 hours, Palestinians will resume suicide bombings inside Israel. However, senior IDF officers told Haaretz last night that the operation, currently in its fifth day, is likely to continue for another several days - though it will almost certainly end before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington next week.
Across the Gaza Strip, five Hamas militants and three civilians were killed Saturday, bringing to 42 the Palestinian death toll there since the start of the operation. The dead militants include a top Hamas rocket-maker, Louay al-Borno, who was killed in an Israel Air Force strike in his vehicle in Gaza City. One IDF soldier has thus far been killed, on the first day of the operation.
A senior Israeli military official confirmed that the Beit Hanun sweep was different from previous Israeli incursions into Gaza, which resumed after the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas militants. In the past, he said, troops would largely stay on the outskirts of populated areas instead of operating house-to-house as in Beit Hanun.
The Palestinians appealed for international intervention to pressure Israel to halt the campaign.
Army officers said Saturday that the fighting in Beit Hanun has waned, and troops are currently mainly searching for wanted men. They are also targeting rocket-launching crews, and have hit at least four such groups over the last two days. Nevertheless, Palestinians fired at least five Qassam rockets into Israel over the weekend. No injuries were reported, although a building in one of the local kibbutzim was lightly damaged.
Across the Gaza Strip, five Hamas militants and three civilians were killed Saturday, bringing to 42 the Palestinian death toll there since the start of the operation. The dead militants include a top Hamas rocket-maker, Louay al-Borno, who was killed in an Israel Air Force strike in his vehicle in Gaza City.
In the West Bank, three Palestinians were killed by IDF fire over the weekend and an Israeli policeman was moderately wounded.
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