Dozens die in Jabalya as army expands its punitive operation
More than 31 Palestinians were killed from IDF gunfire in the Gaza Strip in the past two days as Israel's military operation in the northern part of the Strip is being expanded. Among the dead are at least eight children under the age of 14, while the injured have topped 120.
Among the dead are four Hamas men who carried out two attacks near the settlement of Nissanit and an IDF position near Beit Hanun.
The IDF operation which began on Tuesday night, following the deaths of two children in Sderot from a Qassam rocket attack, has involved large infantry and armored forces, which have besieged the town of Beit Hanun and deployed along the eastern outskirts of the Jabalya refugee camp.
As of last night, the IDF was planning to deploy additional forces into the area as part of the operation.
On Wednesday, fighting was intense and lethal, with four Palestinians killed in gun battles.
By Thursday, the IDF was not the only one reinforcing its positions, but Palestinian sources said at least 300 Hamas and members of other Palestinian paramilitary organizations were in position in Jabalya, some traveling from other parts of the Gaza Strip.
In the early morning hours yesterday, heavy exchanges of fire took place, mostly on the outskirts of Jabalya. In some cases, IDF attack helicopters fired rockets against groups of Palestinians preparing to fire Qassam rockets.
At approximately 3 P.M., an anti-tank rocket was fired at an IDF armored personnel carrier, lightly injuring an officer and two soldiers. In response to the incident, an IDF tank fired its main gun at the men identified as launching the missile. A perimeter wall of a school was hit, and its collapse killed seven people, among them three children.
Palestinian sources reported at least 25 dead by the evening hours in fighting in Jabalya and its environs.
Anticipating a broadening operation, both in breadth and duration, Palestinians throughout the Gaza STrip are rushing to purchase staples and other necessary provisions.
As part of the operation, IDF soldiers are taking up positions in homes on the outskirts of Jabalya. Armored patrols are also making incursions into the middle of the refugee camp.
"There is no country in the world that would be willing to absorb repeated bombing - and therefore we are undertaking intensive action," Southern Command chief, Major General Dan Harel said yesterday.
"We have taken action a number of times in the Beit Hanun area, each operation going further than the previous one," he added. "We are already minimizing the range of the Qassam rockets. When and how we will leave the area is a matter of operational evaluation of the situation. Of course we will not leave if we believe the shooting [of rockets] will continue."
Harel called on the residents of Sderot to "stay put" but refused to promise full-proof security. "We cannot promise 100 percent results, only 100 percent effort," he said.