Sami Abu Zuhri 224 88.
(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
Hamas vowed to extract a "heavy price" from Israel, and the Palestinian Authority threatened to call an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, after the IDF killed 12 Palestinians in a series of air strikes and ground operations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and Thursday. Eight of the dead were members of terrorist groups, but Palestinians said the other four were civilians, hit by a tank shell.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel was getting closer to launching a larger scale military operation.
Late Thursday evening, the IDF targeted a Kassam rocket squad near Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip. Palestinian sources said one person had been killed and several others wounded. Two Hamas operatives were killed in an IAF air strike in Beit Hanun Thursday morning.
On Wednesday night, five terrorists from the Army of Islam - a terror group involved in the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Schalit - were killed when an IAF missile struck their jeep in the Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitoun.
The IDF confirmed that it was behind the strike and said that the terrorists were on their way to launch Kassam rockets at Israel. The Army of Islam, a Hamas splinter group, was behind the March kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who has since been released. The group is also believed to be among those holding Schalit, who was abducted in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
"Resistance operatives are prepared to force the Zionist enemy to pay a heavy price if it continues the aggressive attacks," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "Every opportunity will be open to us so that we can protect our people."
The Prime Minister's Office said that as long as Palestinians continued to fire indiscriminately on Gaza, the IDF would respond when the opportunity presented itself, as it did over the last two days.
Sources in the PMO said the strikes did not represent any change in Israeli policy, but rather reflected a continuation of the policy of going after those responsible for rocket attacks.
Despite the attacks, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's denunciation of it at the UN on Thursday, the planned meeting early next week between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas was expected to take place as planned, senior government officials said.
There was a sense in Jerusalem Thursday night that given the hostile nature of Abbas's relationship with Hamas and Islamic fundamentalists in Gaza, his comments were meant primarily for domestic Palestinian consumption.
In a related matter, government sources said that despite the cabinet's declaration of Gaza as hostile territory last week, paving the way for the cutting off of utilities to the Gaza Strip in the event of Kassam rocket attacks, there was no intention to immediately do so following Wednesday's barrage on the Western Negev. "This is not an automatic response," one official said.
The escalation in violence came as 14 Kassam rockets and close to 30 mortar shells were fired into the western Negev since Wednesday morning. The Popular Resistance Committees and the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attacks. One of the rockets scored a direct hit on a home in Kibbutz Sha'ar Hanegev, causing extensive damage but no injuries.
Abbas asked UN officials in New York to act to stop Israel from continuing its operations in the Gaza Strip. He denounced the escalation of attacks and demanded that Security Council members intervene in what he called "the massacre of Palestinians being carried out by the occupation army."
Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinian leadership was examining the option of calling on the UNSC to hold an emergency meeting to stop the "Israeli aggression."
Palestinians claimed that four civilians were killed after an IDF tank shell hit a residential building in Beit Hanun. Witnesses said the shell fell between two houses and that soldiers also fired from tank-mounted machine guns. In that incident, hospital officials said that another 25 were wounded, including five critically. The IDF had no comment.
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel was drawing closer to launching a large-scale military operation in Gaza to put a stop to cross-border rocket and mortar barrages into Israel. In his first public comments on the issue, Barak said, however, that a large-scale military operation would not be a simple undertaking.
"We are moving closer to a broad and complex operation in Gaza," said Barak during a special holiday broadcast on Army Radio. "It hasn't happened in recent weeks for many reasons .... We're getting closer to this and it should be realized that such an operation is not simple - not from the point of view of the forces taking part, not from the aspect of the length of time we'll have to spend there and not from the aspect of the operational challenges the forces will meet."
During the holiday, IDF tanks and bulldozers, escorted by attack helicopters, moved into the northern Gaza Strip, staking out open ground from where Palestinians had earlier fired rockets into neighboring Israel. Beit Hanun residents said about 20 armored vehicles were involved in the operation.
The UN's humanitarian coordinator to Israel, Kevin Kennedy, condemned the shelling of Gaza's crossings by Palestinian terrorists, saying such attacks only worsened what he described as a serious humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Kennedy said that in the past week, only 97 trucks were able to enter Gaza, down 50 percent from a similar period in July, and warned of a shortage of dairy and perishable foods if the crossings were not opened soon.
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