IDF smokes fag 298.88.
(photo credit: )
Soldiers from the elite Samur (Weasel) unit were busy refueling their Puma AFV by the side of the road Thursday morning, not far from the Rafah crossing. On the fourth day of Operation Squeezed Fruit, their tired, unshaven faces and smiles of satisfaction told the story.
By evening, 15 tunnels had been found and most of them had been blown up. Officers directing the operations said many more remained to be found. Some had been located in advance by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), aerial reconnaissance and Military Intelligence, and others were found by Samur teams using their own special instruments.
For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here
The Samur (also a Hebrew acronym for hideaways and tunnels) unit is part of the special Yahalom branch of the Combat Engineering Corps. Its soldiers are at the heart of the first IDF activity on the Philadelphi Corridor, near Rafah at the southernmost edge of the Gaza, since disengagement from the Strip more than a year ago.
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The Samur teams are constantly going in and out of the area, about four kilometers within Palestinian Authority territory, blowing up tunnels used to smuggle arms and explosives from Egypt into Gaza.
The unit was set up over the last few years of Israel's presence in Gaza to try and cut off the underground smuggling between the Egyptian and Palestinian parts of Rafah.
Since disengagement, which included a withdrawal from the Philadelphi Corridor, they've been a bit starved for work. They took part in the Lebanon War, but as the IDF decided not to send soldiers into Hizbullah's tunnels, making do with blowing up the entrances, they didn't fill their usual role.
"Now we're doing what we've been trained for," said one of the team's members while washing some of the dust off his stubble with mineral water.
"Nothing has changed there," said one of the unit's officers. "We're seeing exactly the same kind of tunnels that we came upon before disengagement. There are just so many of them now."
The decision not to allow "the tunnels to turn into highways," as Defense Minister Amir Peretz put it this week, led to the IDF operation so close to the Egyptian border. The agreement between Israel and Egypt that enabled the IDF to leave the Philadelphi Corridor placed responsibility for preventing smuggling on the Egyptians, who were allowed to bolster their forces in the areas beyond the limits set by the Camp David Accords.
But despite Egyptian assurances, dozens of new tunnels have been dug and, according to recent intelligence briefings, more than 20 tons of explosives and advanced anti-tank missiles have been smuggled into Gaza.
Palestinians who had undergone training in Iran and Syria were smuggled through the tunnels into Gaza to train terrorists, Channel 1 reported Thursday.
Despite the operation, there didn't seem to be any significant activity in the green, highly visible Egyptian observation posts. They seemed almost deserted.
The Samur AFVs go in heavily laden with all sorts of equipment, including a generator and a robot, but sometimes the most basic tools are used.
"This is the best thing against tunnels," shouted one soldiers, brandishing a large black spade.
Another sign of the extent of the tunnel-demolition work was the large pile of empty wooden boxes used to transport TNT next to the open gate leading into Gaza. The IDF entered through the southernmost gate on Sunday at the start of the operation.
Two units - the Givati Brigade's Tzabar Battalion and the Desert Patrol Battalion - using Ahzarit AFVs encircled the southern neighborhood of Rafah, where most of the tunnel entrances were located inside buildings and greenhouses. In addition to protecting the men demolishing the tunnels, the two battalions carried out wide sweeps of the surrounding areas, uncovering arms and explosives. The infantry also took control of the Dahiniye airport.
At noon Thursday, part of the force began to leave Gaza. First out were Beduin soldiers from the Desert Patrol Battalion eager to get home in time for Id al-Fitr festivities marking the end of Ramadan. Most of their comrades remained inside, waiting for the end of the operation, which will continue as long as the force continues to find tunnels.
"We were surprised that no one shot at us," said a veteran sharpshooter with much experience fighting in Gaza.
So far, opposition has been minimal. On Sunday, two armed Palestinians were killed. Thursday evening, a bomb exploded under an AFV, without causing casualties.
"This is a very focused operation and it's actually not as large as it seems from the outside," an officer in charge of the operation said Thursday. "So far, we've fulfilled all our objectives."
Meanwhile, at the northern end of the Gaza Strip, another IDF force was operating against terrorist organizations. Since the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit on June 25, mobile units have been hunting for Kassam rocket crews.
Thursday afternoon, a small detachment of Merkava tanks from Brigade 7 were preparing to enter the northern sector, where the communities of Nisanit, Eli Sinai and Dugit used to be.
"Every unit now has responsibility for one sector to prevent Kassam launches," the officer in command of the tanks said. "We go in with the tanks for a few hours or even days and hunt them down. It seems to be working. We've reduced the Kassam launches drastically, although if they keep on trying, they'll always succeed with a few."