IDF to step up pinpoint raids in Gaza

Four Hamas gunmen arrested in Jabalya raid; crossings to remain shut despite int'l pressure.

Kassam sapper 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Kassam sapper 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The IDF will step up its pinpoint raids into Gaza this week but will not embark on a major operation for the time being, defense officials said Saturday. At least four Gazans were killed in IDF operations during the day. Defense Minister Ehud Barak plans to brief the cabinet on the past week's events in Gaza at its regular Sunday meeting. Defense officials said Barak did not plan to recommend a large operation and that the IDF would continue the pinpoint raids into towns and villages used to fire Kassam rockets. Since last Sunday, close to 160 Kassam rockets and 70 mortar shells were fired at the western Negev, and more than 30 terrorists were killed. Defense officials said that despite international pressure, the crossings into the Gaza Strip would remain closed for the next few days as part of an effort to pressure Hamas to stop the rocket fire. "A large-scale operation is not currently on the table," a defense official said, adding that the army was under orders from Barak to "deepen" its operations inside Gaza in an effort to stop the rocket fire. Overnight Friday, two Hamas gunmen were killed in an IAF strike. On Saturday, IDF troops followed that order and in a deep incursion into Gaza raided the Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Strip, arresting four Hamas operatives. It was the first time in months that the IDF operated more than five kilometers deep inside Gaza. Golani Brigade infantry backed by tanks and Engineering Corps soldiers operated throughout the night in the camp, the launch pad for numerous rockets in recent days. IDF sources expressed satisfaction with the operation and the rare capture of four armed Hamas terrorists. Air strikes continued Saturday morning, and in Gaza City's Saja'iya neighborhood, an IAF missile struck a car loaded with weapons and Kassam rockets, the army said, adding that the car's occupants were wounded in the attack. On Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the current IDF operations as "brutal," but also accused Hamas of trying to destroy the Palestinians' national aspirations. Hamas was defiant, saying it would keep firing rockets at Israel. "We will not surrender and we will not raise white flags," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha. Abbas's condemnation came after the IAF bombed the PA Interior Ministry building in Gaza City, flattening one wing and accidentally killing a woman at a wedding party next door. Palestinians claimed that close to 50 civilians, including children playing soccer in the street, were wounded in the strike. The bombing was the first on a government ministry since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June and defense officials said that strikes would continue against Hamas's infrastructure if the group continued to fire rockets at Israel. While United Nations officials raised concerns over Barak's decision to close the crossings and seal off the Strip, defense officials said Gazans had sufficient stockpiles of food and other supplies. The officials said that while the policy would be in place for several days, Israel would not allow a humanitarian crisis to develop.