Amid IDF predictions that the recent round of violence would soon subside rather than escalate into a more intensive conflict, Israel pounded Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in the most extensive aerial bombardment since Operation Cast Lead two years ago.
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The aerial strike began in the predawn hours when air force planes bombed eight targets in Gaza in response to the firing of 10 mortar shells a day earlier.
At least three Hamas operatives were killed during the bombing of arms storehouses and smuggling tunnels along the border with Egypt, and in the pummeling of tunnels being dug toward Israel.
In the evening, the IAF bombed a Hamas training camp in southern Gaza in response to a Kassam rocket attack earlier in the day on a town near Ashkelon that injured a 16-yearold girl. The rocket landed just feet away from a kindergarten as parents were dropping off their children.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi called the situation in Gaza “fragile and explosive.” Sources in the Southern Command told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas would likely prevent rocket fire deep into the Israeli home front, but continue targeting towns and IDF positions along the border.
“We have no guarantee that the situation won’t deteriorate if a rocket causes a large number of casualties,” Ashkenazi said during one of his final briefings to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
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Ashkenazi also revealed that two weeks ago an advanced Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missile – one of the most sophisticated in the world – hit an Israeli Merkava tank and succeeded in penetrating its hull. As a result, the IDF has decided to deploy Battalion 9 of the 401st Armored Brigade along the Gaza border, since its tanks are equipped with the new Trophy active-protection anti-tank missile defense system.
Top military sources said the current round of violence was started by Hamas and was likely a result of internal pressure within the organization to renew attacks on Israel, which it hadn’t undertaken since Operation Cast Lead two years ago. Hamas is still recovering from the damage it suffered during that campaign and has yet to complete the rebuilding of many of its underground tunnels and passageways on the outskirts of towns and villages in northern Gaza.
Ashkenazi said that a total of 60 Palestinian terrorists had been killed inside the Gaza Strip over the past few months in 112 Israeli attacks.
“The fighting goes on daily,” the source in the Southern Command said. “Most of the operations are along the border, since that is where Hamas is trying to hit us.”
Ashkenazi said the man calling the shots in Gaza was not Ismail Haniyah, the Hamas prime minister, but Ahmed Jabari, commander of Hamas’s military wing.
“We see Hamas as the responsible party in the Gaza Strip, and therefore even if it is not Hamas that fires into Israel, the IDF’s attacks are carried out against Hamas,” said Israel’s top soldier.
Although Ashkenazi told MKs that the Iron Dome counterrocket defense system would become operational in the coming year, he cautioned against exaggerated hopes regarding the coverage it provides.
“It is not perfect,” said the IDF chief.
In his remarks to the committee, Ashkenazi also discussed other security issues facing Israel. These included the rising tensions in Lebanon ahead of the publication of the findings of the international tribunal probing the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Also addressed was the continued infiltration by migrants, which the IDF estimates to have totaled 13,350 people over the past year.
The army, said Ashkenazi, has been holding simulations of various scenarios that could play out on the northern border resulting from the Hariri verdict.
He estimated the chances that violence would break out there as very low, particularly if the damage to Hizbullah following the report’s publication was not extensive.
As for Iran, the IDF head said that “the Iranian nuclear program is advancing, despite difficulties from many directions.
They were surprised by the global sanctions, including the Chinese and Russian sanctions.”
Opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima) on Tuesday evening also commented on the continued attacks from Gaza, saying there is a need to respond to any kind of attacks.
"The rocket fire today was very close to a kindergarten and it doesn't matter to Israel which one of the terrorist organizations was responsible, it is Hamas who controls Gaza and they need to react,"she said.
Livni added that "no dialogue should be conducted with Hamas, except with regards to Gilad Schalit."
Palestinian sources claimed that the IDF attacked targets in the Gaza Strip belonging to the military wing of Hamas, Izzadin Kassam Brigade and eye witnesses reported that four people were injured during the attacks.
The 'Army of Islam' organization in Gaza claimed responsibility for the Kassam rocket attack.
In their statement, the Army of Islam said the Kassam was in response to the three members of the organization that were killed during an Israeli attack last month.
Palestinians claimed the IAF struck several targets in the Gaza strip late Monday or early Tuesday, AFP reported.
Palestinians claimed that three raids targeted the towns of Khan Younis and Beit Lahiya, AFP reported. Two terrorists from the Izzadin Kassam Brigades were reportedly injured in the Khan Younis strike.
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