Jan 3, 2009 20:44
Infantry, tank units enter for first time since Gaza op began
By JPOST.COM STAFF, YAAKOV KATZ AND AP
For the first time since the start of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF sent ground troops into the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening.
The IDF said that the purpose of the ground operation was to eliminate launching pads in northern Gaza from which specific long-range rockets had been fired into southern Israel.
Large forces from the army's infantry, tanks and artillery units are among those participating in the mission.
Several hours earlier, the army began to fire artillery shells into the northern part of the Strip.
According to reports, the artillery units were attacking targets in northern Gaza from where Palestinian terrorists had been firing rockets at southern Israel.
Warplanes, gunboats and artillery units blasted more than 40 Hamas targets throughout Saturday, including Hamas's central intelligence headquarters in Sha'ati, weapons storage facilities, training centers and Hamas leaders' homes.
Air strikes that had waned during the day gathered pace after dark. One raid hit a mosque in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing 14 people and wounding 33, seven critically, according to a Palestinian health official.
Other Palestinian reports claimed that the mosque was hit by an artillery shell.
The IAF also hit the home of senior Hamas commander Abu Zacharia Al-Jamal. A Hamas spokesman announced that al-Jamal was killed in the attack, which would make him the third senior operative in the group to be targeted in the past three days.
In addition, Palestinians reported four dead in an IAF strike in the Rafah area.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told Channel 2 Saturday night, "We will do all that is necessary to provide a different reality for southern Israel, which has been under constant attacks for the past eight years."
In Saturday morning attacks, the army struck the homes of two Hamas operatives, saying the buildings were used to store weapons and plan attacks. Hamas outposts, training camps and rocket launching sites also were targeted, it said.
The army also struck the American International School, the most prestigious educational institution in Gaza. The school is not connected to the US government, but teaches an American curriculum in English.
The airstrike demolished the school's main building and killed a night watchman. Two other Palestinians were killed in a separate airstrike, while three others died of wounds sustained earlier, Gaza health officials said.
Earlier, the army dropped leaflets in downtown Gaza City ordering people off the streets. The warnings were followed by the air strikes.
Hamas also declared on Saturday that its members had foiled an attempt by IDF special forces to infiltrate the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.
According to the report, a number of IDF soldiers were spotted in the outskirts of Gaza's Shajaiyeh neighborhood close to the border with Israel. Hamas claimed that the soldiers retreated after they were targeted by six mortar shells.
The IDF denied the report, telling Army Radio that "this incident never happened."
Earlier on Friday night, a Hamas television station said that the IAF on bombed an airport in the Gaza Strip. One person was reported dead in the attack, and five wounded.