Palestinian medical sources in the Gaza Strip reported Saturday that at least three Palestinians were killed in IDF offensives in the area of the Karni Crossing. Israeli troops advanced 3-5 kilometers (roughly 2-3 miles) into Palestinian territory in search of tunnels and explosive devices, and identified a cell of three gunmen approaching forces. Soldiers opened fire on the gunmen, killing two of them.
IDF tanks enter Gaza (Photo: Reuters)
Some 250 Palestinians participated in a funeral procession two of the Palestinian gunmen killed Saturday, carrying the bodies through the streets of Gaza City towards the local cemetery.The casualties Saturday raised the Palestinian death toll over the past few days to about 40.
Earlier it was reported that five Palestinians were wounded as the IDF intensified its offensive in Gaza City Saturday. Palestinian sources told news agencies that gun battles had broken out between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, adding that forces had blocked main thoroughfares and imposed a lockdown on crowded neighborhoods in the city.
According to Palestinian reports, IDF forces entered the Gaza Strip with tanks through the Karni Crossing and advanced until a distance of roughly 500 meters (0.3 miles) from the Sajiya and Zeitoun quarters of Gaza City.
Palestinians reported that ground forces block off a main road, and set up positions around crowded neighborhoods just three kilometers away from Gaza City. Additionally, IDF forces set up tank blockades closing off a main road leading to the area of the former settlement of Netzarim, news agencies reported.
Forces reported the discoverery of a tunnel which had been dug from inside a chicken coop north of the Karni Crossing, apparently to be used for the infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory. It was possible the coop was built to screeb the digging activities from view.
The IDF termed the operation a “raid,” which was being carried out as part of inclusive efforts to uncover tunnels and explosive device. Likewise, troops were equipped with a map of “Qassam launch areas,” and were uprooting vegetation in areas from which terror cells were known to operate.
Ground forces were operating with the backup of Givati brigades and IAF helicopters. Overnight Saturday, the Air Force attacked armed fighters in four separate missile strikes. In one of the incidents, Palestinian witnesses said missiles that were fired towards gunmen in the Sajiya neighborhood outside Gaza City missed their mark and the gunmen managed to flee uninjured. During the night the IAF also fired on a tunnel in northern Gaza, dug by Hamas operatives, which was used to smuggle weapons into the Strip.
Qassams hit Israel
At least 12 Qassam rockets were fired towards Israeli territory since Friday, indicating that despite the Israeli incursion, the terror organizations Qassam-launch capabilities were still intact, nor had their motivation diminished. On Friday the IDF stressed that operations would continue simultaneously in all areas. A military source told Ynet, “In the end the Palestinian will understand that this business isn’t worth it for them.”
On Friday the air force was the central operator in Gaza offensives, carrying out three missile strikes aimed at armed Palestinians who approached ground forces in the field. At least eight gunmen were hit in the strikes, and two were killed in Beit Layiha. Palestinian sources in northern Gaza reported that a civilian was also killed who was in a building targeted by an IDF missile.
Annan calls for restraint
The international community expressed concern that Israel was intensifying its operation in Gaza. Overnight, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan released a statement calling on all parties to refrain from any further violent actions to save the lives of all civilians in the region.
He urged Israel to stop immediately its “disproportionate use of force,” and called for the release of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit.
“These measures are an absolute prerequisite for defusing the tensions which are escalating every day,” he said. He reminded both sides of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, and urged them to refrain from any attack, which may cause loss of civilian life and property.
Hanan Greenberg and news agencies contributed to the report