The Israel Defense Forces continued operations Thursday in the southern Gaza Strip, as part of Operation Rain Man. The operation, which targets wanted operatives and aims at uncovering underground tunnels for weapons smuggling, resulted in the death
of six Palestinians - five gunmen and a 13-year-old bystander - following exchanges of fire near Khan Younis on Wednesday.
There were few exchanges of fire Thursday afternoon and the IDF's operations have been focused on combing the area and interviewing area residents.
Hamas' military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, warned that they would take revenge against Israel, pursuant to the deaths. The movement's spokesperson Abu Ubeida said, in an interview with Palestinian Maan news agency: "We promise the Israeli enemy many surprises and promise to show previously unrevealed military capabilities. All operations of the Israeli military in Gaza are meant to cover up their failure to release Gilad Shalit."
"Any extensive ground operation of the enemy in Gaza will fail. The enemy gets tangled up every time it enters even a few meters into Palestinian territory, so what will happen if he decides to occupy the entire strip? It won't be a picnic, it will be a disaster."
Abu Mujahad, a spokesman for the Salah al-Din Brigades, the military wing of the Public Resistance Committees, whose members participated in the kidnap of Gilad Shalit added: "Israel
won't get to the imprisoned soldiers, even if it demolishes the entire strip from the face of the earth and kills all of its residents. The Israelis won't find the soldier. The only way, the only solution is through third-party mediation.
Wreckage in southern Strip following Thursday's operation (Photo: AFP)
The army's operation in town in the last hours has concentrated on searches for suspects. In the afternoon, the troops ordered all men in the neighborhood of Farhin aged between 15 and 45 to leave their houses and gather in an agricultural field nearby.
Soldiers told residents that those who chose to remain home would expose themselves to the danger of getting injured as soldiers plan to raid the area.
The IDF reported that this was a routine procedure used by the soldiers to locate wanted suspects.
Khatem, a Farhin resident, told Ynet that some 2,000 people reside in the neighborhood. He said that heavy military vehicles have been used to uncover large areas since the morning hours, destroying hundreds of olive trees, walls and fences in the process, while snipers provided cover from the rooftops.
"The soldiers took over at least three houses, whose occupants they assembled in one room, while soldiers operated in the other parts of the house, and especially observed from the roofs," he said.
IDF sources said that the operations were aimed at uncovering terror infrastructure, including tunnels dug between the trees. Army sources also stressed that the actions were give legal authorization.
Khatem said that the military operation Wednesday night caused shock and fear among the residents, mainly the children.
"Everything is paralyzed since the operation began, and apart from a few minutes in the morning, when the soldiers allowed the residents to move, almost all residents are confined," he noted.
Farhin residents estimated that the IDF operation in the afternoon had nothing to do with the searches for Gilad Shalit.
"This is not the first time they search the houses and remove the men. After questioning, most of the people are released and only several are left in custody and are then jailed and interrogated," Khatem said.
Hanan Greenberg contributed to the report