An Israeli soldier sits atop a mobile artillery unit in a staging area outside the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Large numbers of IDF ground units have taken up positions in staging areas within Israel on Saturday, as the army began partially withdrawing from the Gaza Strip.
Some ground forces are to remain active in three areas across Gaza – as the last of the tunnels are destroyed – while some are to remain to form a security strip, protecting Israeli towns against Hamas attempts to exploit gaps in the border fence and stage further attacks.
On Saturday, members of the elite Maglan unit destroyed a terrorist tunnel in a massive explosion. This was the tunnel that led to a booby- trapped shaft in southern Gaza last Wednesday – where three Maglan members were killed.
In Saturday’s operation, Maglan soldiers and the combat engineers mapped out and destroyed a tunnel that led into Israel – one of several such operations that took place over the weekend.
The IDF has killed 800 terrorists in its offensive, army sources said, pushing the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials up to 1,669.
The Iron Dome rocket-defense system shot down six of the 84 rockets and mortars fired into Israel on Saturday.
That number was an increase over Friday, as 60 rockets and mortars were fired, and nine were shot down.
In one incident Saturday, a 77-year-old man was severely wounded by shrapnel during a strike on the Eshkol region.
Since the start of the operation, there have been 3,112 rockets and mortars fired into Israel from Gaza. Of these, 105 hit in populated areas, and 560 were shot down by the Iron Dome system.
On Friday night, the IDF attacked 200 Hamas targets, most of them command and control centers.
Some 4,500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets have been destroyed since the start of the operation.
“We have seen far less friction on the ground overnight,” the source said Saturday.
One Palestinian attack on the IDF in Gaza came in the form of an anti-tank missile fired at the Armored Corps in the Shejaia neighborhood of Gaza City. Also, seven soldiers were lightly wounded in a mortar attack in northern Gaza.
During recent air strikes, the IDF targeted five mosques used as rocket storage centers and command posts. A target in the Islamic University complex used for military activity was also targeted, the source said.
The IDF has drafted 82,000 of the 87,000 reserves it is authorized to call up.
Five soldiers from the IDF’s Barak Formation were killed on Thursday when a mortar shell fired from Gaza struck in Israel, near the border. They were named late on Thursday: Capt. (res.) Liran Adir, 31, from Ezuz; Sgt.-Maj. (res.) Daniel Marash, 22, from Rishon Lezion; Capt. Omri Tal, 22, from Yehud; St.-Sgt. Shay Kushnir, 20, from Kiryat Motzkin; and St.-Sgt. Noam Rosenthal, 20, from Meitar.
Since the start of the war, 63 soldiers, officers and NCOs have been killed, and one is missing in action.
On Thursday, 19 soldiers were wounded.
The IDF attacked 50 Hamas targets Thursday, including rocket launch zones. The targets were hit by a combined navy and infantry attack.
Two terrorists seen near a tunnel were killed by a Paratroopers unit. The Israel Air Force struck an Islamic Jihad control room, killing two terrorists.
Also Thursday night, Givati infantry units uncovered two tunnel shafts and destroyed them. Secondary explosions were seen in the blast.
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 520,000 people had been displaced by the fighting - more than a quarter of Gaza’s population.
Another group, the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, said some 3,000 homes had been totally or partly razed.
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