IDF tanks leave Gaza after clashes

Soldier fights for his life in hospital; Barak warns of "ramifications."

March 26, 2010 18:22
3 minute read.
An Israeli tank is seen on the Israel Gaza Strip b

gaza strip idf tank 311. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


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The soldier who was seriously wounded in the Gaza Strip on Friday night continued to fight for his life on Saturday afternoon after undergoing an operation at Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center. The soldier is unconscious and cannot breathe on his own.

Meanwhile hostilities in the Gaza Strip continued Saturday as two Kassam rockets were fired at Israel. One fell inside the Strip, while the other exploded near a kibbutz in the Sha'ar Hanegev area. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.

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IDF tanks were stationed in the Gaza Strip on alert overnight Friday. Reuters quoted Palestinian sources as saying five IDF tanks and two armored bulldozers entered the Strip and fired shells at targets near the town of Khan Yunis. The tanks were still in position at midnight, reportedly firing occasional rounds, but withdraw completely by Saturday afternoon.

A military spokeswoman said IDF troops used bulldozers to "flatten infrastructure used by terrorists to attack soldiers" before withdrawing.

On Friday evening, Major Eliraz Peretz, 31, from Eli, deputy commander of the Golani Brigade's Battalion 12 and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky from Rishon Lezion, were killed in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF made the announcement several hours after clashes between the IDF and armed Palestinians occurred near the town of Khan Yunis.

Peretz's brother Uriel was killed in 1998 in clashes with Hizbullah when the IDF was still deployed in Lebanon. The family has another brother serving in Golani's Battalion 13. The third brother participated in Operation Cast Lead last year.

A third soldier was moderately wounded in the incident and two others were lightly wounded. They were both taken to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, where the first soldier's condition worsened and became serious on Saturday morning.

Gaza medics said a Palestinian civilian was killed in the clash. Two gunmen were reportedly killed.

The hostilities occurred as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and an inner circle of his ministers, known as the 'Septet', were meeting in Jerusalem.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement on Friday evening saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu "joins in the grief of the families of soldiers who died today protecting the state and hopes for the quick recovery of the soldiers who were wounded."

"This is a hard day for the state of Israel and for the Israel Defense Forces," Netanyahu said.

In a hint of warning, the prime minister added that "Israel's strong positions against those wishing  to harm its civilians and soldiers - are well known."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned on Friday that were Hamas to "loosen its grip" on terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip and allow further incidents to occur, there would be "ramifications." Speaking to Channel 2, he said Hamas - which claimed responsibility for the ambush in which Peretz and Sviatkovsky were killed - would be held accountable for terrorist activity in the Strip.

Peretz and Sviatkovsky were killed when a team of soldiers from Golani's Battalion 12 entered the Strip around 2:40 p.m. after several men were spotted placing what seemed to be explosive devices near the Gaza border fence on Thursday night.

The force was then attacked with mortar shells and gunfire from inside the Strip, as well as an explosive device that went off nearby. In the exchange of fire that ensued, at least one Palestinian was killed and several others wounded.

The soldiers were apparently not killed by the explosive device but by gunfire, when the grenade in one of the soldiers' vests was hit by a Palestinian bullet and exploded on his body.

The military was uncertain whether the incident was a prepared ambush or if the shootout began because the soldiers crossed the border fence into Gaza.

The IDF used helicopters and mortar fire against the Palestinians.

Late Friday evening, the Hamas Website said the group's gunmen were involved — a departure from the Islamic terror group's tendency over the past year to avoid confrontation with Israeli forces.

Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida told Hamas radio that IDF forces "fell into an ambush" set by Hamas terrorists east of Khan Younis. He did not elaborate. He said IDF troops entered 500 meters into Gaza "but our men preempted them."

He also said the action was taken in revenge to the killing of Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, which Hamas pinned on Israel.

Islamic Jihad also claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the attack was intended to kidnap a soldier.

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