Vilna'i: Large-scale Gaza op looming

Deputy defense minister says Hamas not a viable partner for talks; Barak orders crossings closed.

Vilnai (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel is quickly approaching a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i said Saturday, in response to a mortar attack the previous night on an IDF base that wounded eight soldiers. Two soldiers - one of whom lost a leg - were in serious condition after a mortar shell fired from Gaza hit inside the base near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the attack. On Saturday afternoon, a Kassam rocket struck a field south of Ashkelon. Sgt. Noam Nakash of Beersheba, a member of the base's C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence) team, was seriously wounded in the mortar attack. Doctors initially feared they would have to remove both of Nakash's legs but in the end they only amputated the right one. Another soldier, who was initially reported to be in critical condition, underwent a number of operations overnight Friday, and on Saturday his condition was described as stable. Six other soldiers, including two women, were lightly-to-moderately wounded. In response to the Kassam and mortar attacks, Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to close all the crossings into the Gaza Strip on Sunday. "The cease-fire [which expires on December 19] is important to us and to them since we are in control of the crossings and the other side is afraid of the IDF's might," Vilna'i said during a public appearance in Beersheba. "We must find the right time for action and their provocations do not leave us with many choices." Vilna'i said there was no doubt "that we are getting close to launching a wide-scale operation in Gaza." He said it would be different than previous operations. Turning to negotiations with the Palestinians, Vilna'i rejected Hamas as a viable partner since the terrorist group refused to recognize Israel's right to exist. Earlier Friday, Palestinian gunmen clashed with IDF troops along the Gaza border. The IDF said troops spotted a group of gunmen trying to plant a bomb along the security fence. The Gazans opened fire as the patrol approached, and soldiers shot back, hitting one of the gunmen.