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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

IDF ground troops in Gaza

This morning, I said on both this blog and on LGF, that as far as I was concerned, the most significant point of last night's helicopter attack on the Kassam launchers is that IDF ground troops are back in Gaza. I now have more details of that presence.

In fact, at least seven terrorists were killed last night in Gaza and Samaria. But let's stick to Gaza for the moment. The Jerusalem Post is reporting that IDF Special Forces (read: ground) killed four Islamic Jihad operatives on their way to fire Kassam rockets at Israeli targets last night. According to the Post:

The military force laid ambush ... Monday night for terrorists in the northern Gaza village of Beit Lahyia. Backed up by IAF helicopter fire, the ground troops opened fire at a terror cell they spotted on its way to launch Kassams and killed four while wounding an additional eight.

Palestinian security officials said the IDF Special Forces were joined at one point by a naval diving unit [it's not clear to me what that's about. CiJ] and that the fierce fighting lasted about five hours, ending just before dawn.

The troops entered about 3 kilometers into Gaza, marking a major change in the way the army has operated since its withdrawal from the area this past summer. Until now, the IDF has combated Kassam rocket fire from outside Gaza utilizing artillery fire and air strikes. Before Monday's ground raid, soldiers had only entered a few meters into Gaza, searching for mines along the border fence, but avoiding operations deep inside the Palestinian-controlled territory.

Until now.... Here's where it gets dicey. If I'm reading Arutz Sheva correctly, the operation was suggested by unnamed IDF generals and approved by Comrade Peretz (the Defense Minister whose highest army rank was Captain) without the approval of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz:

The operation was approved by Defense Minister Amir Peretz. His underling, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, has said publicly of late that he rejects the need for ground operations against the Kassam launchers. He even mentioned the efforts he is investing in attempting to convince defense figures to "get down from the tree" and stop pushing for a ground operation in Gaza.

HaAretz notes that the soldiers set up the ambush mentioned above in the "evacuated coastal settlement of Dugit."

YNet adds:

Monday night's operation does not necessarily point to a close ground operation, but the combination of fighters from special combat units inside the Strip constitutes a new high in the IDF's operations against terrorists.

Up to now, the army only passed a few dozens of meters into the Palestinian territory with the aim of "opening a route" in incidents in which the army suspected explosive devices were placed along the border fence. This was conducted mainly in the past weeks following Hamas' rise to power.

Monday night's operation was not another passive defensive move, but rather an active move, in which a special military forces entered the Palestinian territories in order to hit Qassam launching groups.
YNet also carries a 'Palestinian' accusation that an IAF helicopter targeted 'Palestinian' rescue workers after last night's operation. Army officials dismissed the claims, saying that at no time did forces open fire at rescue workers.


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