After foiled Gaza attack, IDF says Hamas risking another Gaza offensive

"We are slowly beginning to understand the magnitude of [the threat from the Gaza Strip]," senior officer says.

idf troops enter gaza 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
idf troops enter gaza 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Under the cover of morning fog, some 10 gunmen staged a failed assault at the Karni cargo crossing into Gaza on Monday, in which horses laden with explosives were used, a security source told The Jerusalem Post. At least four terrorists and a number of their horses were killed in the ensuing exchange of fire with the IDF. No soldiers were wounded. "A very big terrorist attack was thwarted," the security source told the Post. "These terrorists were armed with a huge quantity of explosives. They launched a combined attack, using mortars, and attempted to approach the border fence with booby-trapped horses to harm our soldiers, before firing on our force," he added. The Gazan cell belonged to the Janud Ansar Allah (Soldiers Loyal to Allah) organization, a small group that is linked to Iran and Hizbullah, the security source added. Members of the cell, some of whom had suicide-bomb belts strapped around their bodies, led the horses off of trucks and began placing bombs along the fence. They were identified by members of Golani Brigade's 13th Battalion, who were on patrol. The terrorists proceeded to open fire on the infantrymen, and mortar fire from deep within the Gaza Strip was also directed at them. The soldiers returned fire and called for backup. At first, tanks were dispatched to the scene, and fired at the terrorists. Air force helicopter gunships then joined the battle. Lt.-Col. Avinoam Stolevitch, commander of the 13th Battalion, told Army Radio that future assaults of this sort would put Hamas at risk of a second Operation Cast Lead. "We are slowly beginning to understand the magnitude of [the threat from the Gaza Strip]," he said. Stolevitch added that he believed the terrorists had planned a "large explosion... to provide cover for a kidnapping." He said his men did not pursue the surviving terrorists into Gaza, out of concern the attack was a trap aimed at kidnapping soldiers. Stolevitch praised his men's alertness. "Hamas did not carry out this attack but they certainly provide general coverage for these small groups," he said. The source said it was too soon to know whether the cell had planned to kidnap soldiers. "The area turned into a war zone," he said. "Southern Command forces are prepared for these types of attacks, and are aware of the dangers present in the morning fog. There is always the chance terrorists will try to use that for an attack." Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday afternoon praised the army's "effectiveness" in foiling the attack, and said it was quite possible that the terrorists had planned a kidnapping, a claim made by Hamas television. "The results speak for themselves, and prove the preparedness and the alertness of our forces along the Gaza border," Barak told a Labor faction meeting. "I hope that all future operations end with the same type of result." Ismail Haniyeh, who heads Gaza's Hamas government, praised the attackers as "martyrs," and said the violence confirmed Israel's "aggressive intentions" toward the Palestinians. Following the attack, Israel closed the Karni crossing, the main cargo terminal between Israel and Gaza, as well as the nearby Nahal Oz fuel depot. But despite the attack, 30,000 vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease were transferred to Gaza via the northern Erez crossing. The IDF said that 125,000 vaccines had been supplied to the Strip in the past three months in three separate transfers, due to the importance of preventing an outbreak. In addition, 140 truckloads of humanitarian aid was scheduled to be sent to Gaza via the southern Kerem Shalom crossing. Jerusalem Post staff and AP contributed to this report.•