IDF Rolls Over Northern Gaza Rocket Launch Points
In a reaction to the recent Qassam rocket attacks that have reached into Ashkelon, the farthest the Palestinian rockets have reached yet, Israel ordered the IDF to begin clear and hold operations into the northern swath of the Gaza Strip. This is an attempt to deny the in-range areas as convenient rocket launch points by pushing them back beyond the current range of Ashkelon as well as adding protection for Sderot, the primary target of Palestinian rockets, as it was easily within range. The new extended range Qassams expanded the target list to more comfortably include Ashkelon.
While it is reported that the IDF clear and hold operations seek initially between 1 and 2 kilometers of buffer zone, heavy fighting was reported in Beit Lahiyah, about 4 kilometers into the north-central portion of Gaza, on the northern edge of the Jabaliyah refugee camp and about 5 kilometers north of Gaza City. One civilian was reported killed among several Hamas and Islamic Jihad casualties at Beit Lahiyah in what is being described as running gunbattles.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said that the IDF roll into northern Gaza was a “necessary step that could not have been avoided,” citing not only two consecutive days of Qassam rocket attacks reaching Ashkelon, but also the persistent rocket attacks from northern Gaza since the unilateral Israeli pullout and handover of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority.
Further exemplifying Hamas’ involvement in the range of Qassam attacks, Ghazi Hamed told the Jerusalem Post that the Hamas-run PA was willing to stop the Qassam attacks because Hamas was “interested in keeping the region calm.” This naturally belies the fact that Hamas has been operating at the tip of the spear leading the escalation, including not only prolonged rocket attacks, but also recent kidnappings through Hamas-dominated groups such as the Popular Resistance Committees and the Islamic Army, among others.
Elsewhere, in East Jerusalem, Israeli police arrested five more senior Hamas officials, as the Israeli offensive on Hamas continues to consist of more than just the Operation Summer Rains Gaza incursion. The Hamas parliament members already in custody rejected the authority of the IDF court in which they were being charged with terrorism related offenses.
Also, the Karni crossing on Gaza’s eastern border, which had been reopened to allow for food, medical and fuel shipments into Gaza, closed again following a terror alert. It was later reopened, as was the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
Regardless of what happens with the situation surrounding Gilad Shalit, the incursion into northern Gaza to set up a buffer zone against rocket attacks will likely be treated as a wholly separate security situation going forward. The rocket attacks existed before his abduction and will almost certainly persist after the Shalit crisis’ resolution, be it through a negotiated trade-off or his execution.