Israel Defense Forces shelling of the Gaza Strip continued on Tuesday, despite civilian casualties the day before, and a military spokesperson said the operation against Qassam rocket launchers would continue.
Speaking the day after shelling killed a 12-year-old Palestinian girl, the spokesperson said, "We will continue to fight them [rocket launchers] intensely, while trying to avoid hurting innocent civilians."
On Tuesday afternoon, Israel Navy gunboats shelled a Palestinian police position in northern Gaza on Tuesday, Palestinian security officials said.
There was no damage, and no one was hurt. The IDF said there was artillery fire in the area, but no shelling from the sea.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, who toured the Gaza border sector earlier on Tuesday, said, "As long as it's not quiet here [in Israel], it won't be quiet there [in Gaza]."
Mofaz said Israel was forced to sharpen its response to terrorist organizations as the Hamas-led Palestinian government is sitting by idly.
The Palestinian girl was killed Monday by IDF shelling in the Gaza Strip. Thirteen other members of her family, including toddlers, children and teenagers were wounded.
Nonetheless, a senior IDF officer told Haaretz on Monday night that the widespread shelling of Gaza would continue.
Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim said Tuesday that the intensified military strike against Palestinian rocket launchers would continue as long as rockets are trained on Israel.
Boim also apologized for Palestinian civilian casualties, but said the IDF must defend Israeli citizens.
"We are very sorry about it, but you have to understand that the military's task is to defend the security of the citizens of Israel," Boim said. "If the Hamas government will not control these terrorists from firing [Qassam] rockets against Israeli civilians in cities and communities, we will continue to push these citizens out of the range of these rockets."
The shell hit the family's home on the northern outskirts of Beit Lahia at about 5 P.M. As a result, a fire broke out, killing 12-year-old Hadil Aban and injuring almost everyone else in the house. The IDF officer expressed regret at the death of innocents, but claimed the area in which the house is located had served a Qassam launching cell.
British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells condemned Monday's killing and expressed concern over the impact of IDF artillery fire near residential Palestinian areas.
"The British Ambassador in Tel Aviv has asked the Israeli government to exercise maximum restraint. Israel has the right to defend itself, but any actions in the occupied territories must be proportionate and in accordance with international law. Equally, we urge the Palestinian Authority to take steps to halt all attacks launched at Israeli targets from the Gaza Strip."
The IDF has increased combative activity in the Gaza Strip in light of the continued rocket launches from there. The launches continued Tuesday morning, when a rocket landed in near Zikim, south of Ashkelon. There were no casualties. IDF sources say the rockets are being launched from residential areas in northern Gaza, and leaflets were distributed to residents warning them of possible military strikes.
Hundreds of IDF artillery shells are being fired daily, along with air strikes, missiles and cannons from naval vessels offshore. The shells are fired immediately as rocket-launch locations are identified; however, additional shelling is directed at other targets, based on analysis of past events and identification of launch sites from previous days.
Recently, the IDF also reduced the size of the "safety zones" artillery batteries must maintain around Palestinian communities. The military was aware the decision could result in civilian casualties, as occurred Monday. The safety zone was reduced from 300 meters to 100 meters. The shell fragmentation range is 100 meters, so the decision clearly endangers civilian lives.
Since Friday, 17 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli shelling. The dead include two children. Most of the rest were operatives in terror organizations injured in Israel Air Force strikes on training camps operating in the ruins of Gush Katif settlements.
The senior officer admitted the army knew the expanded operation could cost Palestinian civilian lives. "We have no certainty that more civilians won't be hurt in upcoming attacks," he said. "But the shelling disrupts the movements of the Qassam cells. They feel threatened and shoot quickly, without taking aim, in order to flee. That is why a large portion of Qassams fired in recent days landed in the sea. We can no longer allow our citizens in settlements around Gaza, to be held hostage by terror organizations. That has got to stop. We pulled out of the Gaza Strip. There is no more excuse to fire Qassams or place explosive devices near the fence. Nor for sending suicide bombers from Gaza to Israel via Sinai."
He added that the Hamas government, unlike its Fatah predecessor, doesn't even condemn the rocket fire. "For now, they are doing nothing to prevent the shooting into our territory. It is possible they are even encouraging it by turning a blind eye. This is a war of attrition against Hamas. We many have to continue this shelling for a month or more, but the goal is to break them in the end."
However, military sources added that although official directives to the artillery batteries won't be changed, the IDF may "take its foot off the gas" today. They did confirm that in general, the attacks will continue.
At least six rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel on Monday. One landed close to an IDF base at Zikim, south of Ashkelon. Some landed in the sea. The rockets caused no injuries or damage.
On Sunday, defense sector sources said in conversations with Haaretz that Hamas is close to deciding to rein in the rocket-launching organizations, since the continued firing and Israel's serious response are causing substantial damage.
Another assumption mentioned is that Hamas needs quiet in light of the serious financial crisis the Palestinian Authority encountered upon Hamas' election victory. However, the killing Monday of the girl could hinder achieving any calm. Injuries to Palestinian civilians will increase the terror organizations' incentive for revenge through additional rockets.
The IDF arrested 23 Palestinians in the West Bank Monday. At the Bika'ot checkpoint east of Nablus, ultra-Orthodox Nahal Brigade infantry soldiers arrested a Palestinian carrying a gun. An IDF force in Nablus was fired on and a roadside device was used against soldiers in Jenin.
The IDF Monday dismantled the security coordination facility south of Jericho. That was the last operating joint security facility in the West Bank. The decision came from the political echelon, as part of Israel's response to the swearing-in of the Hamas government.
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