(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The IAF struck two access routes in the northern Gaza Strip overnight Wednesday in an attempt to prevent terror cells from reaching rocket-launching sites.
Hours later, IDF artillery units intensified the shelling in northern Gaza, focusing also on sites where rocket-launching cells had been identified in recent days.
In the West Bank, security forces arrested nine fugitives in villages near Tulkarm, Ramallah, Hebron, and Bethlehem, as well as in the Jenin refugee camp.
The offensive strikes came less than a day after Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz warned that Israel would be forced to shut down the Rafah border crossing if the Palestinian Authority failed to restore law and order.
Describing the situation as extremely grave, Mofaz requested US, Egyptian and PA officials to deal with the situation immediately. If the situation remained unchanged, he said, Israel would be forced to take action and shut down the crossing.
Mofaz also requested the Egyptians halt entry from Gaza to Rafah.
During the day, protesting the arrest of one of their members, gunmen affiliated with Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades commandeered two bulldozers and began smashing through a section of the wall that separates the Palestinian side of Rafah from the Egyptian side. Earlier, media reports said Palestinian gunmen ran amok in Rafah, shut down the border crossing and occupied four government buildings in the town.
Due to the ongoing Kassam rocket attacks on Israel, Mofaz instructed the army to intensify its activities in Gaza. He also told the army to increase arrests of terrorists in the West Bank and declared that the closure imposed there several weeks ago will remain intact until the end of the week.
Seven Kassam rockets were fired at the western Negev on Wednesday. Two of the rockets were fired in the afternoon and landed on Road 34 between Kibbutz Nir Am and Sderot. No one was wounded, but the army said damage was caused to a building at a gas station near the kibbutz. Following these attacks, IDF artillery units shelled areas inside the no-go zone identified by IDF surveillance teams as the launching sites.
Five others fired at night landed near Zikim south of Ashkelon after nightfall. No one was wounded and no damage was reported.
In the morning, IAF aircraft bombed eight access routes located outside the no-go zone in response to Tuesday's Kassam rocket fire. As with the artillery shelling, the army said the aim was to hamper and restrict the movement of terror squads.
In the West Bank, soldiers conducting a search at Tarame, south of Hebron, shot and killed an armed Palestinian fugitive who aimed his rifle at them. The fugitive was identified as Mustafa Ibrahim Khaled Awad, a weapons dealer.
According to the army, Awad was not at home when troops arrived at his house to arrest him. Searching his home, they uncovered a pipe bomb and ammunition clips. The soldiers then went next door to Awad's store. Awad, who was hiding behind a sofa, aimed his rifle at the troops, who shot and killed him. He had been wearing a helmet and flak jacket, and it was only later that troops identified him as the fugitive they had planned to arrest.
In his store, troops found a handgun, a large number of bullets, numerous weapons parts, IDF equipment, knives and an axe.
In Jenin, soldiers operating in the city clashed with Palestinians throughout the day who hurled rocks and firebombs at troops. In an attempt to disperse them, soldiers fired rubber bullets and tear gas.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, soldiers arrested six Palestinian fugitives. Five affiliated with Hamas were arrested in Jelazoun north of Ramallah and a Fatah Tanzim fugitive was arrested in Hizma, southeast of Ramallah.