IDF to reduce operations ahead of Bush visit

Five Palestinians killed, five soldiers wounded in 24 hours of clashes in the Gaza Strip.

armored carrier gaza 298 (photo credit: AP)
armored carrier gaza 298
(photo credit: AP)
Under orders from the political echelon, the IDF will begin reducing its activities in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Monday ahead of US President George W. Bush's arrival two days later. Defense officials said the army would continue to hunt down "ticking bombs" - terrorists in the advanced stages of planning an attack - but would not initiate large-scale operations that could lead to an escalation in violence. The decision to scale back operations was made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "This is a sensitive time diplomatically," a senior defense official said Sunday. "The IDF will continue working to curb Palestinian terrorism, but will not take actions that could lead to an escalation while the US president is here." Meanwhile Sunday, five IDF soldiers were wounded, one moderately, in fighting in the central Gaza Strip. At least five Palestinian gunmen were killed and 50 terror suspects detained. The operation started late Saturday night when Golani Brigade infantry entered the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. The five soldiers were wounded in two separate incidents; in one, an antitank missile hit a force on the outskirts of the refugee camp. The moderately wounded soldier was airlifted to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. Two Kassam rockets and 12 mortar shells were fired into Israel on Sunday. The five Palestinians were killed in a series of clashes and air strikes against gunmen and Kassam rocket squads. During the operation, the Golani troops, assisted by the IAF and Engineering Corps troops, were ordered to take extra precautions due to an understanding in the defense establishment that Hamas has achieved unprecedented military capabilities and that the group's men were heavily armed. Also Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that despite the expected lull during Bush's visit, the IDF would continue to escalate its operations against Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. He said that the Katyusha rocket that struck northern Ashkelon on Thursday was an "escalation" and would be responded to accordingly. In addition to obtaining an unknown number of Katyusha rockets, Hamas has succeeded in manufacturing a homemade rocket that has a range of at least 15 kilometers. "We will continue to respond, to plan, and to attack those responsible for terrorism in every corner of the Gaza Strip," Olmert said ahead of Sunday's regular weekly cabinet meeting, adding that Barak had been instructed to intensify the IDF's response to rocket attacks. The army allowed several shipments of medicine to enter the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing on Sunday. Thousands of capsules and vials of anesthetics and antibiotics were enter Gaza at the order of the commander of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, Col. Nir Press. Following a request by the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, Press also approved the transfer of several truckloads of medical supplies into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing. Another four truckloads of medical supplies are scheduled to enter Gaza on Monday.