Israel lets humanitarian aid into Gaza

Border opens for 1st time in 7 weeks; 160 trucks cross; PA health minister requests Teva supplies.

gaza truck aid 224.88 (photo credit: IDF [file])
gaza truck aid 224.88
(photo credit: IDF [file])
After a close call in Sderot early Tuesday morning, rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was relatively light the rest of the day, as the IDF continued limited operations against rocket-launching cells in the area. But even as rockets continued to fall and the IAF pursued the terrorists responsible, the second large humanitarian convoy to enter Gaza this week crossed into the area from Israel. Late Tuesday evening, Palestinians reported IDF ground activities in the central and southern portions of the Gaza Strip, particularly on the outskirts of the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis and in the immediate area of the former Kissufim checkpoint, once the main access road to Gush Katif. Some two dozen armored vehicles were seen operating in the area, and exchanges of gunfire were reported, but the ground operations seemed to remain close to the fence and did not involve nearly the amount of manpower used in the first stage of Operation Hot Winter earlier this week. Earlier in the day, one Kassam rocket slammed into the Gigi family's house in Sderot as neighbors slept, but when concerned family members assessed the damage to the empty house, some pronounced it nothing short of a miracle. After 44 years in Sderot and seven years under fire from Kassams, Shlomo and Alice Gigi, grandparents who live alone in the house that was destroyed, had finally been convinced Sunday to take a brief vacation at their youngest son's home in Givatayim. Eyewitnesses said that based on the massive amount of damage to the house, the elderly couple would have been killed had they been home at the time of the attack. That rocket was one of two that landed in Sderot on Tuesday morning. Shortly after that attack, the IAF killed two Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip in two separate air strikes targeting rocket-launching cells in Gaza, Palestinian sources reported. Four other operatives were said to be wounded in the air strikes. An additional two Kassams were fired at Israeli communities in the morning, and in the evening, two more rockets fired from northern Gaza landed in the Ashkelon area. One of the rockets struck the area known as Ashkelon Beach, while the other landed in an open area south of the city. No damage was reported, although some Ashkelon residents were treated for shock. While tension remained high Tuesday, Israel took steps to ease the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip by opening the southernmost crossings to allow dozens of trucks packed with aid and medical supplies to stream into the territory. Over 160 trucks crossed into southern Gaza at the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings. The decision to open the border came two days after Palestinian Authority Health Minister Fathi Abu Mogli appealed to the coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav, to allow shipments of medical supplies and equipment into the Strip. The request specified that the supplies be Teva products, as local hospitals have reported acute shortages of medical supplies. As senior officers of the Givati Brigade began their post-operation assessment of the IDF's activities in Operation Hot Winter, one message became clear: The troops in Gaza managed to avoid many of the problems that arose during the Second Lebanon War. Over and over, in their descriptions of the intense gun battles waged in the streets of Jebalya, the brigade's officers emphasized the soldiers' will to fight and determination to continue the operation - even after receiving orders to pull out. Officers in the unit recalled scenarios of individual bravery, in which wounded soldiers refused medical evacuation for as long as 24 hours in order to make sure that their platoons continued to press forward. But it was in more technical aspects of the operation that the starkest contrasts to the Second Lebanon War were to be seen. Officers from both the Armored Corps and Givati praised the close and informative communication channels shared by the troops on the ground, allowing tanks to provide close support for infantrymen fighting in house-to-house battles. The two units held multiple training exercises in the past year that focused on scenarios similar to those they encountered. The IAF also won praise for its close air support. And unlike in many cases in Lebanon, the troops were led in the field by Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka, who chose to issue commands from the front line rather than staying back and relying on secondhand reports of the fighting. Although the operation was short, troops took care to ensure that logistical lines leading to the rear were kept open at all times, and officers said their troops had been brought ample food and supplies throughout the entire engagement. In their debriefings, officers who had led troops in the field described an enemy who first appeared armed to the teeth, outfitted with field radios, flak jackets, binoculars and a wide variety of weapons, including RPGs, homemade anti-tank rockets, AK-47 automatic rifles and grenades. For the first 12 hours, they said, the Hamas operatives waged effective warfare against the IDF troops, including the gun battles in which St.-Sgt. Eran Dan-Gur and St.-Sgt. Doron Asulin were killed. But after the initial fight - in which, said officers, the Hamas operatives seemed to have been caught off guard by IDF tactics - the organized opposition disappeared, with operatives removing all signs of military accessories and taking up hiding places among the civilian population. After the initial 12 hours, soldiers began sweeping their sector house-by-house, searching for weapons, operatives and information to help complete the intelligence picture of Hamas's military organization in the Gaza Strip. According to Givati officers, the sweeps revealed houses with gun slits built into the walls, mosques packed with firearms and explosives, and booby traps that had yet to be activated.