The IDF on Friday morning wrapped up its operation in the Gaza Strip that left 11 Palestinians dead and more than 20 wounded. The army interrogated 109 Palestinians during the operation and nine of them were transferred to Israel for further questioning.
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The operation began on Thursday when troops swept into the central Gaza Strip on a mission to root out terrorist infrastructure being set up along the border fence.
Under the cover of tanks and attack helicopters, the Givati Brigade's Zabar Battalion entered central Gaza before dawn and surrounded a number of homes in the El-Bureij refugee camp. Two soldiers sustained light wounds after their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile.
The IDF said that the operation was aimed at clearing out Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror infrastructure from the border area. The troops, who probed about a kilometer and a half inside Gaza, encountered fierce resistance by Palestinian gunmen.
"The resistance is proof that the terror groups are continuously trying to launch attacks and fortify their positions along the border," a source in the Southern Command said.
Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said its gunmen initiated the clash by opening fire at an IDF undercover unit. Witnesses reported a heavy exchange of fire as IDF tanks and bulldozers moved in, and soldiers took up positions on rooftops. Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunmen, meanwhile, laid mines against the soldiers.
During the clashes, Hamas operatives fired three mortar shells at the Erez Crossing.
Palestinian hospital officials said six gunmen were killed, and Hamas said all belonged to its group. Among the dead was Mohammed Siam, 37, the Hamas field commander in central Gaza, Hamas TV said. Another 13 Palestinians, including children, were reported wounded.
IAF aircraft later fired missiles at Hamas targets in the area, the army said.
Hospital officials said two gunmen were killed. Again, Hamas identified the dead as its members.
Deposed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, and a spokesman for Fatah, Hamas's bitter rival, both condemned the operation and urged Palestinians to fight back.
"We assert that our people have the full right to defend themselves and to confront these aggressions," Haniyeh said.
Separately on Thursday, outgoing Judea and Samaria Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan said that Israel need not be concerned that Hamas would take over the West Bank following its violent Gaza takeover three weeks ago.
"You cannot compare Hamas's abilities in the West Bank to its abilities in Gaza," he said during a ceremony welcoming his replacement Brig.-Gen. Noam Tibon. "It is not that Hamas has given up on trying; it has to do with the fact that IDF operates freely and without restrictions" in the West Bank.