A senior security source gave a briefing on the current IDF operation in Gaza (1 March)
– Chief of Staff Ashkenazi reports to government ministers (2 March)
IDF operations in Gaza (from IICC report)

 Behind the Headlines: Israeli operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip


Direct hit by a GRAD rocket damages an Ashkelon home, March 2, 2008 (Photo: Edi Israel)

(Communicated by Israeli security sources)

The IDF operation began on Wednesday morning (27 February), when word was received of the intention of a special team of Hamas terrorists that had arrived from Syria and Iran to enter Israel and to cause damage and to perhaps abduct soldiers or civilians. Under cover of bad weather, they intended either to enter Israel through a tunnel or to use ropes to cross over the security wall and then penetrate an army outpost or civilian settlement in attempt to abduct civilians.

The orders for the operation came directly from Damascus and Teheran. Israeli forces managed to locate and kill the five members of the team, and in response, Hamas attempted to create a new equation in the region, whereby Hamas would fire rockets in retaliation to every Israeli attack. Hamas has been following a policy of brinkmanship since June 2007, in an attempt to retain its power.

Iranian-made 122 mm. GRAD missiles, which were smuggled into Gaza during the events in Rafiah, were launched at Ashkelon . The rockets were employed as a means of increasing the range of Hamas missiles, placing more Israelis into the line of fire. The current supply of rockets held by the Hamas is adequate for the launching of a few dozen daily, for many days. This, however, is also dependant on Israeli actions. 

On Saturday (1 March 2008), Israel hit one of the rocket sites, destroying several hundred mortars. The IDF strategy is to try to hit rocket storage and launching facilities. Some of the rockets have a range of 20 kilometers; they originated with the Hizbullah in Lebanon, and Syria and Iran managed to smuggle them  into Gaza when the border to Rafah was breached. The exact quantity of rockets that were smuggled in is unknown.

A large Israeli force, formed by the Givati Brigade stationed near Jabaliya, entered the Gaza Strip on Friday (29 March) and engaged the terrorists. 

The number of Palestinian casualties is not clear, as media reports differ from actual fact. While there are definitely civilian casualties, it is a recognized Hamas tactic to use civilians as shields and to launch rockets from population centers. When civilians protest these actions, Hamas transfers them elsewhere.

Current Israeli estimations predict that rocket fire will continue. Some of the Hamas leadership has fled, while all the living quarters of the leadership are empty. It seems apparent that the Israeli government has decided to show the Hamas leadership that it was a mistake to launch extended range missiles.

The length and extent of the operation will be decided by the government. At this stage it seems that the extent of the operation will be greater than previous operations, as it is necessary to contend not only with Hamas capabilities, but also with their intentions, and to show them that they cannot keep shooting at Sderot and Ashkelon with impunity.  This is not the broad operation into Gaza spoken of previously. If Hamas, supported by Iran and Syria, increases its activities, the Israeli government has additional options. The Hamas leadership is not currently targeted but this may change in the future as it is a question of policy.

While no limited operation can stop all the rockets, the current operation has two aims:

  • The operation was initiated in Jabaliya, the area from which most of the launchings take place.
  • To demonstrate to Hamas that they will suffer additional casualties if the rocket launchings continue. If Hamas continues its rocket launching policy, it will bring the broad military operation upon itself.  

Hamas and Islamic Jihad instructors who were trained in Iran and Syria and who entered Gaza via Egypt, are now training the Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.

While it was problematic for Hamas to smuggle certain types of weapons through the dozens of tunnels beneath the border, during the period the border was open they managed to bring in heavy trucks filled with armaments and ammunition. The Syrians and Iranians were able to arrange the supply of new weapons, which is why Israel must now contend with previously unknown weapon types.

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Five days of escalation in the Gaza Strip (IICC report – March 3, 2008)

IDF operations in Gaza:

Over the weekend (Feb 29 – Mar 1) the IDF operated in the Gaza Strip on the ground and from the air. Large infantry, armored and engineering forces with aerial backup began their activities in the northern Gaza Strip on the night of February 29 and took control of areas from which rockets were launched into Israel.

The first part of the operation included a thorough search of the neighborhood of Sajaiya in Gaza City and the outskirts of the Jabaliya refugee camp. The second part included searching the built-up areas (including private homes) to locate hidden weapons. The IDF made it clear that the forces entering the northern Gaza Strip were limited to a specific area.

At the same time the Israeli Air Force carried out a series of air strikes against terrorist targets, primarily Hamas. On February 28 there were 23 such strikes and more during the following days. One of the strikes hit a truck carrying 160 rockets.

Hamas government institutions were struck from the air. Among the targets were the building which housed the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya in Gaza City and police stations in Beit Lahia, the Shati refugee camp and other locations.

Deliberate use of civilians as human shields:

During the IDF activity in the Gaza Strip both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad called upon Palestinian civilians to gather in places where, they claimed, the IDF was about to attack. That was done to have them serve as human shields, exploiting the fact that the IDF avoids deliberately harming Palestinian civilians.

Civilians were accidentally killed during the fighting, since terrorist bases, positions and buildings from which the terrorist organization conduct their battles against the IDF were built close to their homes, and rockets were also fired from nearby. Among those killed were a number of children.

 * * *

On March 2, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told government ministers that of the 100 Palestinians killed in recent days, 90 of them were terrorists, mostly from Hamas.

He said that the IDF distributed notices in Gaza before the operation warning the civilian population in rocket-launching areas of the upcoming attacks.

Ashkenazi said: "In one incident we saw an elderly Palestinian leaving Jabaliya with a wagon, in which was hidden a GRAD missile. He stopped ‘as if coincidentally’ next to an orchard. Two terrorists then arrived there, took the missile, position it on the launcher – and fired."

The IDF chief added that despite the operation, the IDF would continue its efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and ensure a regular supply of wheat, flour and petrol though the border crossings.