IDF says 390 Hamas targets hit since start of Gaza operation; over 360 Palestinians reported killed.
By YAAKOV KATZ, JPOST.COM STAFF
Israel pressed ahead with Operation Cast Lead on Tuesday afternoon, with Palestinians reporting IAF strikes on two targets in Gaza City and the city of Khan Yunis, located in the south of the Strip. Army Radio reported that a Hamas police station was one of the targets.
Earlier in the day, at least 10 people were killed and 40 others wounded when IAF planes bombed a series of targets in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources said.
The IDF confirmed air strikes against dozens of targets in the central Gaza town of El-Bureij, near Khan Yunis, and in Gaza City.
Hamas's Interior Ministry, Foreign Ministry and Treasury, and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's offices were amongst the targets, as well as police stations.
Facilities belonging to Izzadin Kassam, Hamas's military wing, were also struck, as well as the homes of operatives in the group, including that of its Gaza Division commander.
Palestinians reported that two sisters, aged four and 11, were killed in a strike in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.
The IDF announced Tuesday that since Operation Cast Lead started on Saturday, 390 Hamas targets had been hit.
The army added that 30 targets were struck on Monday night, including launch sites, arms caches, a vehicle carrying Grad missiles and a northern Gaza mosque used for storing weapons.
According to UN figures, more than 360 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began, most of them members of Hamas security forces, but at least 64 of them civilians.
Senior defense officials on Tuesday said that Izzadin Kassam had been severely weakened by the IDF operation. They added, however, that Monday night's rocket and mortar shell barrage on the South, which killed three Israelis, proved that Gaza terrorists are still capable of firing deep into the Israeli home front.
Hamas had scaled back its operations and reduced rocket fire prior to the barrage, officials said, while it reestablished its communication infrastructure as well as its command and control centers. The group has been severely impaired by the IDF operation, the officials stated.
"Hamas is still strong, and is getting ready to engage Israeli soldiers in the event of a ground operation," one defense official said. "For now, it is busy working to recover its capabilities."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev wouldn't comment on the prospects for a ground operation, but said Israel would "continue keeping the pressure up on the Hamas military machine."
"This operation will continue until a new security reality can be created in the south, and those hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live in fear of Hamas rockets no longer have to live in that fear," Regev said.
Meanwhile, speaking to Israel Radio on Tuesday morning, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i stated that Hamas would increase the range of its fire on Israel, but that Israel was prepared for this possibility.
He said that Hamas had hundreds of missiles, but that the group's strength was weakening.
Vilna'i went on to say that the IDF would see Operation Cast Lead through to its conclusion, and that Israel was prepared for long weeks of battle.
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit was quoted by Israel Radio as saying that there was no room for a cease-fire in Gaza.
The minister said that the government was determined to eliminate the threat of fire on residents of the South, and that the IDF must not end its operation until Hamas's will to fire had been broken.
If Israel gives up, he said, it will not have achieved anything.
Sheetrit emphasized that the IDF was operating with utmost caution so as not to harm civilians in the Strip, and said that supplies and medicine were being transferred to Gaza.
"The time has come for Israel to say: Our citizens come first," he said.
Sheetrit spoke as Israel let some 100 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies from Jordan, Turkey and international aid groups into the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
In addition, five new ambulances given by Turkey were allowed into the Strip.
Meanwhile, the IDF was making final preparations for a penetrating ground operation into the Strip.
Tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery batteries and soldiers from several infantry units massed along Gaza's border ahead of the operation, which defense officials said would likely be limited in time.
Defense officials said that the ground operation, if launched, would penetrate deep into Gaza with the aim of dealing a strategic blow to Hamas. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the officials said, declared during the assessment that he did not want to utilize all of the forces at the IDF's disposal since it would create "static targets" for Hamas.
"We will hit them where they least expect it," one official said, adding that the artillery batteries deployed along the border would likely be used in the event of a ground operation. "We will need to constantly be moving on the ground to maintain the element of surprise."
Gil Hoffman and AP contributed to this report
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