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Israel Declares "No Man's Land" Along Gaza Border

While Ariel Sharon awaits surgery to repair the small hole in his heart that caused his small stroke last week, he has responded to the barrage of rocket attacks from northern Gaza Strip by declaring the outer edges of the Gaza Strip off-limits to Palestinians and essentially forewarned free-fire zones.

The off-limits area will be 1 ½ miles deep and run along the northern and eastern edges of Gaza, defense officials said. Gaza is about 25 miles long and six miles wide. The officials said the banned areas are uninhabited, although they include Palestinian farmland.

The IDF has been shelling open fields in these areas since the rocket attacks began in earnest weeks ago. While the entire swath has been declared ‘hazardous to your health’ by Sharon, expect to see Israeli defense forces concentrate both attention and efforts on the northwest corner of Gaza, where attacks inching closer to the Israeli coastal city of Ashqelon have been launched, and the northeast corner of Gaza, where rocket attacks on the areas surrounding Sderot have originated. The 1.5 mile buffer is meant to push accessible Qassam rocket launch points back far enough to make the targets out of range.

After poor flying weather minimized operations early on after the announcement, a break in the weather opened a window of opportunity that the IDF seized. Israeli air assets struck two buildings used by al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades that an Israeli army spokeman said were used both in planning and execution of Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

Helicopter gunships and fighter jets struck at least nine targets, cutting off electricity to a town in northern Gaza and cutting deep craters in half a dozen roads. Warplanes rocked Gaza City with two sonic booms at around dawn.

The Israeli army said it targeted two offices in Gaza used by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed group in President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, to plan attacks, and a bridge used to reach an area to fire rockets at Israel.

The combined operations struck open fields, the two buildings mentioned and roads. The IDF dropped heavy ordnance on roads used to transport Qassam rockets and their operators to past launch points, leaving large craters to hamper the effectiveness of Qassam operations.

In southern Gaza at the EU-monitored Rafah Crossing into Egypt, Popular Resistance Committees(PRC) leader, Jamal Abu Samhadana, posted a statement complaining that senior commanders from PRC-member organizations Hamas and PIJ were barred from crossing and set a deadline for officials to meet or attacks on the crossing will begin.

A PRC spokesman threatened the group’s fighters would blast a path through the concrete barricades along the Gaza-Egypt border if the ban were not rescinded by the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha on January 10…

…The PRC’s protest was echoed by Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, each of which said one of its field commanders had been barred from crossing Rafah.

In the West Bank, Israel announced that it plans to build more homes within Israeli West bank settlements. The headline to the story reads that Israel will “expand” the settlements, but this is a poor choice of terminology, as there will be no territorial gains, but merely building within the confines of established settlements. While new construction within the settlements is banned by the 2003 ‘Road Map to Peace” agreement, Israel likely views this as a statement that the Palestinian Authority has not lived up to their end of the bargain by not disarming terrorist groups in the Palestinian Territories, also called for in the ‘Road map’, signed by both Israel and the PA.

Meanwhile, an election court has granted a six-hour window as an extension to candidate registration which would allow Fatah to re-unify and regroup, as it has determined to do, in order to stave off electoral defeat at the hands of Hamas, who has already made gains in local elections. Exactly when that six-hour window will occur was not stated. While Fatah seeks to regroup, Israel has decided that disallowing an East Jerusalem Palestinian vote was a bad idea, and has apparently changed its stance and may now allow the vote to take place, regardless of heavy Hamas participation.

With the threats from Palestinian groups of bombing the newly opened Rafah Crossing to the continued barrages of Qassam rockets into Israeli towns, the Palestinian Authority is demonstrating a fair degree of either ineptitude toward reeling in the terrorists on its own soil or complicity with them. Regardless of which view one holds in that aspect, it should be universally held that the state of affairs in Gaza since the Israeli pullout after 38 years of occupation has not improved, but only gotten worse. This fact gives momentum to Likud candidate Benyamin Netanyahu heading into Israeli elections, though certainly not nearly enough to overcome Sharon, health questions or none.