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(photo credit: IDF)
IDF special forces entered the southern Gaza Strip before dawn Saturday and captured two Hamas terrorists who were planning an attack in the near future.
Capt. Tal Levram, spokesman for the Southern Command, called the raid, known as "Desert Storm," a "surgical operation" and said no shots were fired in arresting brothers Osama and Mustafa Muamar. The troops withdrew from the area immediately after the operation, the army said.
OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Gallant praised the soldiers for their execution of the mission, and officers said the raid did not signal a new tactic in the war against terror.
Hamas confirmed the incursion, saying troops penetrated about 700 meters into the southern Gaza Strip, east of Rafah, stormed a house, made the arrests and returned to Israeli territory. They stayed in for about an hour, it said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the two terrorists were not members of the group, but local Hamas activists said the pair were sons of Ali Muamar, a prominent local Hamas leader, and known to be members of the group.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, asked US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday night to pressure Israel not to escalate its operations in the PA areas. Later, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, called for the IDF to mount a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip after terrorists fired three Kassam rockets at Sderot Friday morning, and two more on Saturday evening, causing no injuries or damage.
"I call on the government to wait no further but to launch a comprehensive ground operation in Gaza for several weeks, to strike at the very foundations of the terrorist infrastructure," he told Israel Radio.
Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima) and MK Matan Vilna'i (Labor) have also called for a ground offensive in the northern Gaza Strip.
Others have advised against a ground operation, including Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who said such an action would cause many casualties on both sides.
The arrest raid came after two weeks in which Defense Minister Amir Peretz has faced pressure to step up military efforts to stop the near-daily Kassam attacks.
After the relentless attacks on his hometown of Sderot, Peretz has hinted he may authorize such an operation, telling the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that it appeared likely that the IDF would take the fight to "the next level." Security officials said he intended to give a green light to the IDF to launch a massive air operation against Hamas targets in Gaza if the rocket barrages do no stop.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also hinted at harsher responses if the rocket fire continued. He said Thursday that Israel would "continue to carry out targeted attacks against terrorists and those who try to harm Israeli citizens."
A senior IAF officer, meanwhile, defended a botched air strike against a Gaza terror cell in which two civilians were killed and 13 were wounded, saying that such operations were preferable to a ground incursion in which soldiers faced greater risks.
Before Saturday, IDF troops had officially entered Gaza three times since September's withdrawal from the Strip. On May 31, naval commandos entered Beit Lahiya and ambushed Islamic Jihad members on the way to fire Kassam rockets, killing four. In the two other incursions, soldiers had only entered a few meters to search for mines planted along the border fence.
In an arrest raid in the West Bank town of Kafr Kud, west of Jenin, late Friday night, troops surrounded a building and fired on a fugitive seen on the roof with a weapon, the army said. The fugitive was lightly wounded.
Four other wanted men were nabbed in the West Bank over the weekend. Two Fatah operatives were arrested near Ramallah, and a Tanzim fugitive and an additional terror suspect were arrested near Bethlehem, the army said. Palestinians threw four bombs at troops near Tulkarm Friday night, and soldiers in Nablus came under fire, according to army sources. Also, a Border Police post at the entrance to Kalkilya was fired upon.
On Friday afternoon, a Palestinian arrived at the the Hawarrah checkpoint south of Nablus, and during a routine inspection, a 20-cm. knife was found. He was handed over to security officials for questioning.
A bomb placed near a spring near Neveh Daniel in Gush Etzion exploded on Friday. Searches uncovered remnants of the device, including a cellphone apparently used as a remote triggering mechanism. Security forces arrested two Palestinians seen running from the scene.
A bomb was detonated near troops patrolling the southern Gaza security fence Saturday evening, the army said.