Army, Navy Pound Gaza Launch Sites in Massive Assault

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The Israel Defense Force has been pounding the northern Gaza Strip with a massive artillery, air and naval attack for the past 48 hours, targeting Qassam launch sites. Meanwhile, the government has directed the IDF to cut off all contact with the Palestinian security forces under the authority of the Hamas government, sworn in last week in the Palestinian Authority.

The U.S. government announced Friday it was cutting off contact with Hamas, but would maintain links with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

IDF artillery hit the northern Gaza Strip with more than 150 shells yesterday, with Israeli gunboats taking part in the attack for the first time. The air force hit open areas of the northern Strip, along with a number of buildings the army said had sheltered rocket launchers.

In spite of the attack, six Qassams were fired yesterday at the Negev. No damage or injury was reported.

Despite an IDF warning on Friday night, Palestinian police did not leave their posts in the area of the evacuated settlements in the northern Strip. One post was hit yesterday by IDF fire.

An officer on the IDF General Staff told Haaretz yesterday, "Gaza has a new government and we expect it to enforce quiet. If the rocket fire persists, severe punitive measures will be taken.

"If need be," he added, we will take much more serious steps."

THe IDF has already reduced the safe distance set for artillery aimed toward Palestinian residential areas. If the situation escalates, the General Staff has not ruled out steps that will cause people to flee from homes located near rocket launch areas in Beit Hanun and Beit Lahia in the northern Strip.

Meanwhile, the army is enforcing a closure around Nablus following the suicide bombing Thursday night at the entrance to Kedumim in which four Israelis were killed. A preliminary investigation shows that the bomber, who was sent by a combined Fatah and and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine network, was disguised as a yeshiva student and was given a lift by two of the victims.

Meanwhile, Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli, announced Friday that the U.S. was suspending contacts with the PA's Hamas government. However, contacts could be maintained with Abbas and officials directly responsible to him, including the PA's Washington representatives, Ereli said.

See full story, Page 2.

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