129 Palestinians killed during IDF's Gaza raid
Palestinians: At least 80 houses demolished; IDF official: Operation unlikely to halt rocket attacks altogether; IDF tanks, bulldozers enter Rafah.
Since the beginning of Israel's operation in northern Gaza 17 days ago, 129 Palestinians have been killed by Israel Defense Forces fire across the Gaza Strip, according to a check conducted by Haaretz. Of these, 42 were civilians, including women and children, mostly killed by IDF tank fire.
According to the check, 68 of the dead were members of the military wing of the radical Islamic movements Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
The operation was launched in an effort to bring an end to Qassam rocket attacks on the town of Sderot and nearby communities in the Negev. It has caused the greatest number of casualties of any operation since the start of the second intifada in September 2000.
Army enters RafahMeanwhile, witnesses reported that IDF bulldozers and tanks entered the Rafah refugee camp, near the Egyptian border in southern Gaza, early Sunday morning.
The IDF said that its forces were looking for tunnels used to smuggle weapons.
About 10 tanks and three bulldozers were seen entering the city.
Palestinians: At least 80 houses were demolished during the operationPalestian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said Saturday that 140 people were killed during the IDF's raid, and that some 500 were injured, Army Radio reported. Qureia added that the lives of the civilians living in the area have been ruined.
According to IDF figures, some 130 people were killed during the operation, most of them armed militants. IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon told Channel 1 on Friday that 9 or 10 of those killed during the operation were civilians.
According to United Nations and Palestinians sources, besides militants and Qassam launchers, dozens of children and civilians were also killed by IDF fire during the 17-day operation.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said on Saturday that at least 80 houses were demolished during the operation, including 60 in the Jabalya refugee camp and 20 in the nearby town of Beit Lahiya.
On Saturday morning, one Palestinian militant died of wounds sustained during the raid. The man was identified as Mohammad Al-Eyleh, 20, a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant faction of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.
IDF pulls out of Jabalya refugee campTroops began leaving the Jabalya refugee camp at around 7 P.M. Israel time and sought new positions on hills overlooking Jabalya and Beit Lahiya, where many of the recent Qassam-rocket attacks were launched from. The new positions are on Palestinian territories, and are roughly a kilometer west of the Green Line which marks the boundary between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The redeployment was completed late on Friday. The IDF has said, however, that forces will remain on high alert and will be prepared to retake built-up positions in the northern Gaza Strip in the event that Qassam-rocket attacks resume.
PM spokesman Raanan Gissin stated that the army has "redeployed" outside areas where "there were no longer threats" of militants who launch rockets into Israel, but that forces would return should attacks begin again.
"We will move in and act whenever we feel there is threat of rockets," he said. "It's redeployment in places where we are sure rocket fire has ceased or where we have things under control."
IDF officials: Operation was blow to Palestinian militantsThe Israeli army withdrew forces from built-up areas in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday evening, after they entered the area as part of Operation Days of Penitence.
Israeli officials on Saturday said the broad offensive struck a heavy blow to Palestinian militants who have fired rockets into southern Israel.
They nevertheless conceded the operation was unlikely to halt the rocket attacks altogether and stressed the army was prepared to move back into the area.
A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the offensive "managed to dramatically reduce" the ability of militants to fire rockets, although the threat of future attacks remains.
In a television interview on Saturday, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that while Israeli forces had pulled back in northern Gaza, troops remain committed to battling the rocket threat - a strong hint that Israel believes more Qassams will be launched.
"We are continuing to fight against the Qassams," he said.
Throughout the fighting, Palestinian militants managed to fire rockets toward southern Israel, although the frequency and intensity of the attacks decreased.
U.S. welcomes Israel's decision to pull troops out of GazaThe United States on Friday welcomed Israel's decision. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had hoped for a quick end to the operation in the northern part of the Palestinian territory.
"This is news that would be welcome, if it's confirmed that they are pulling back," he said.
"It's important to underscore at this moment as well the Palestinians have a responsibility for ending violence and terror, and particularly for ensuring that this area - that no area is used for attacks on Israel with rockets," Boucher said.
Russia slams IDF raid in Gaza, tells PA to crack down on extremistsRussia criticized Israel's Gaza offensive on Friday, calling for a swift military withdrawal and saying it plans to send an envoy to the region to help seek an end to the confrontation. It also urged the Palestinian leadership to rein in extremists.
"It is clear that the disproportionate use of military force in heavily populated areas creates additional barriers on the path to a Palestinian-Israeli settlement and could undermine the prospects for a renewal of political dialogue," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement called on Israel to "withdraw its forces from Gaza as swiftly as possible" and for Palestinian leaders to "take firm and decisive measures against extremists."
Russia said it will likely send a special envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Kalugin, to the region on a mission to help seek an end to the violence and promote a return to efforts to reach a settlement under the "road map" peace plan sponsored by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.
IDF prevents rocket launching in JabalyaIsrael Defense Forces prevented a rocket launching in the Jabalya refugee camp early on Friday. According to military sources, a militant cell came to the area accompanied by children, who helped carry the rockets to the site of the launching.
Members of the Golani Brigade opened fire on the Palestinians and the militants fled, leaving their equipment behind them. The army said it abstained from using helicopters to kill the militants due to the presence of the children.
Four Palestinians killed in GazaFour Palestinians were killed in two separate incidents in the Gaza Strip on Friday.
According to Palestinian witnesses, 65-year-old Fatma Husseini was shot in the head by IDF troops in the Jabalya refugee camp.
Palestinian witnesses reported that three people were killed and another was wounded in an Israel Air Force missile strike on a group of militants in the Jabalya camp early Friday morning.
Palestinian medics in the camp identified those killed as two Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades militants and a Hamas member.
The IDF said that an IAF helicopter fired a missile fired at a group of armed militants.
Two IDF soldier suffered light wounds after militants fired an anti-tank rocket at a bulldozer on the Philadelphi route in the southern Gaza Strip. The soldiers were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva.
Also Friday morning, two Qassam rockets fell in an open field near a town in the south of the country. No casualties or damage were caused as a result of the incident.
Overnight Friday, security forces arrested three wanted Palestinians in the West Bank, including one Fatah militant who was arrested in village of Burkah, northwest of Nablus.
PM okays IDF plan to redeploy in GazaPrime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday night accepted an Israel Defense Forces plan for redeployment in the northern Gaza Strip. This weekend troops will begin moving out of the outskirts of Jabalya, Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanun. The meaning of this move in practice, although it is denied officially, is an end to the current phase of Operation Days of Penitence, which over the past 17 days claimed the lives of some 100 Palestinians, many of them civilians.
Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, speaking to Israel Radio on Friday morning, said the pullback was a gesture to the Palestinians ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins Friday. "There is also the issue of the start of Ramadan, we have no desire to make it difficult for the population," Boim said.
Sharon's decision came at the end of a meeting Thursday evening with Shaul Mofaz and senior IDF officers. According to the new decision, the operation will continue, but with a reduction in the number of troops taking part. The IDF will remain on alert and ready to push into the Gaza Strip in the event that rocket attacks on Sderot persist.
Earlier Thursday, Sharon told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the operation would continue and even be expanded as long as there were casualties on the Israeli side. He also told the committee that he had discussed with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz the issue of overcoming legal difficulties stemming from activity to halt the firing of Qassam rockets.
A senior IDF representative briefed the committee on the ongoing operation. He said that the IDF has taken out between eight and nine Qassam squads so far, but noted that the motivation to launch the rockets has not diminished.
According to Palestinian sources, the IDF on Thursday began pulling forces from Beit Lahiya, north of the Jabalya refugee camp, and from the outskirts of the camp itself and deploying them on the hills overlooking it.