KARNEI SHOMRON, West Bank – At least 50 Hamas terrorists have
been killed since Israeli forces entered the Gaza Strip, beginning the
long-anticipated ground phase of Operation Cast Lead.
Staff Sgt Dvir Emanuelof, 22, from Givat Ze’ev was
the first IDF soldier to be killed in action during a gun battle with
Hamas terrorists Sunday near to Jabaliya in the northern
Gaza Strip. [Isranet photo]
An Israeli soldier died Sunday afternoon, several hours after being
critically injured along with another soldier in a mortar attack near
Jabalya. Four other soldiers suffered minor gunshot wounds Sunday
night. More than 30 Israeli soldiers have been injured, two seriously,
since the ground invasion began Saturday night with a column of troops
marching into northern Gaza following a day of heavy Israeli shelling
near the border with artillery cannons.
The ground invasion began a week after the start of the Gaza
operation, which until Saturday consisted of targeted airstrikes on
Hamas infrastructure including rocket launchers, caches of weapons,
weapons labs and training camps.
Operation Cast Lead was launched Dec. 27 following several days of
intense Palestinian rocket fire on Israeli towns following the
expiration of an informal six-month truce between Israel and Hamas.
At the opening of the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, held at the
Kirya army base in Tel Aviv in order to accommodate top army leaders,
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed the families of the Israeli
soldiers who had been sent into battle less than 24 hours before.
"I have thought about you a lot since the operation began,
especially since the decision about a ground operation approached," he
said. "I asked myself and my ministerial colleagues if there was some
other step, outlet or effort that we had not yet tried before sending
our boys into a place fraught with such risks, from which some of them
may not return.
"This morning I can look each one of you in the eyes and say that
the government did its utmost before deciding on the operation. This
operation was unavoidable."
Israeli troops in Gaza have divided the costal strip into two or
three sections, according to reports, to prevent the transfer of
weapons and terrorists from one sector to the other. Details of the
operation have been embargoed by the military; most reports are coming
from Palestinian sources.
In the first night of the ground invasion, Israeli soldiers
exchanged gunfire with Hamas terrorists as Israeli Air Force planes
struck more than 45 targets, including tunnels, weapons storage
facilities, and rocket- and shell-launching squads and platforms,
according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s
office. The Israeli navy also targeted Hamas strongholds, including its
intelligence headquarters in Gaza City.
During the Cabinet meeting, military leaders took stock of Hamas’ situation.
"Hundreds of terrorists have been killed, while weapons and
ammunition stocks have been destroyed, along with tunnels and rocket
manufacturing facilities," Military Intelligence Chief Maj.-Gen. Amos
Yadlin told the Cabinet.
Yadlin said the Hamas government is no longer functioning.
Some senior Hamas leaders are considering a move towards a
cease-fire, Shin Bet security chief Yuval Diskin told government
Despite the ground attack, rockets and mortar shells continue to
rain down on southern Israel — 36 hit the area Sunday morning and
early afternoon. Several buildings were damaged and people lightly
injured in the attacks. One rocket scored a direct hit on a home in
Sderot Sunday, injuring one woman.
Some 400 rockets have struck Israel since the Gaza operation began.
The Israeli army says the ground operation is aimed at destroying
Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and taking control of the areas from
which rockets are being fired into Israel. A statement from the IDF
spokesman’s office says the army has raised the level of alert for
military forces in other areas of the country.
Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
approved the ground incursion during a meeting Friday night.
"The decision to embark on the ground phase of the operation was
taken following in-depth consideration," Barak said during an address
to the nation and the media shortly after Israeli troops entered Gaza.
"We have carefully weighed all our options. We are not war hungry
but we shall not — I repeat, we shall not — allow a situation in
which our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by
Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined."
Barak says Israel seeks peace.
"We have restrained ourselves for a long time, but now is the time
to do what needs to be done," he said. "We are determined to afford our
citizens what any citizen anywhere in the world is entitled to —
peace, tranquility and freedom from threats."
The IDF began calling up thousands of reservists on Saturday. The
majority are from combat units, a large number are from the Homefront
Command and some are from other supporting units, according to the IDF
On Saturday, the Air Force dropped leaflets in areas of Gaza urging
residents to leave their homes since the army would be operating in the
area. Gaza residents complained in telephone interviews broadcast on
CNN that the warnings were meaningless since they had nowhere else to
"Because of the terrorist actions carried out by some terrorist
figures out of the area of residence against the State of Israel, the
IDF was forced to immediately respond and act inside your area of
residence," the leaflets read. "For your own safety, you are required
to leave the area immediately."
The government has made it clear in several statements that it is
not at war with the Palestinian civilians of Gaza, nor does it intend
to retake the Gaza Strip.
"The IDF Spokesperson wishes to reiterate that the residents of Gaza
are not the target of the operation," read a statement issued Saturday
shortly after the ground operation began. "Those who use civilians, the
elderly, women and children as ‘human shields’ are responsible for any
and all injury to the civilian population. Anyone who hides a terrorist
or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist."
Israeli spokesmen have taken to the airwaves, from CNN to
Al-Jazeera, to reiterate the message that it is working to reduce
civilian casualties. Most Hamas infrastructure, however, is buried deep
within civilian neighborhoods, and Hamas has called on Palestinians to
volunteer to serve as human shields, according to reports.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a phone call with
Olmert shortly after the ground invasion began, called on Israel to
pull out of Gaza and to cease all violence. The U.N. Security Council
met for four hours on Saturday night and adjourned without producing a
statement. The United States blocked a resolution calling for an
immediate cease-fire and expressing concern about the escalation of
violence in the area.
President Bush blamed Hamas for the escalation in violence and said a true cease-fire must end the group’s rocket fire.
“This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas — a
Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for
Israel’s destruction,” Bush said in his weekly radio address Saturday.
“Eighteen months ago Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a coup, and
since then has imported thousands of guns and rockets and mortars.
Egypt brokered a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, but Hamas
routinely violated that cease-fire by launching rockets into Israel.”
“The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a
meaningful cease-fire that is fully respected,” said the U.S. leader,
who is leaving office later this month. “Another one-way cease-fire
that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable. And promises
from Hamas will not suffice — there must be monitoring mechanisms in
place to help ensure that smuggling of weapons to terrorist groups in
Gaza comes to an end.”
Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Tel Aviv Saturday
night both for and against the Gaza operation. In the Israeli Arab town
of Sankhin, some 10,000 demonstrators protested the operation — one of
the largest rallies held by Israeli Arabs in many years, according to
reports. Several Arab Knesset members, as well as mayors of Arab towns
and Arab community leaders, joined the protest.