"What we're seeing in Gaza is not ordinary day-to-day security maintenance, it's combat. The events of the past week have made this quite clear," said a senior military official from the IDF's Southern Command on Thursday evening.
Over 20 Palestinian gunmen have been killed since last Sunday as Israel stepped up its operations in Gaza to curb the incessant rocket and mortar fire against its southern communities.
"You don't examine the end result after only a day or two of activity, but obviously every operation we carry out carries with it a message that ultimately will bring genuine results."
But despite the intensive operation, Palestinian terror groups still managed to fire Qassam rockets at Israel. One rocket landed near a school in Sderot. No injuries were reported, though damage was caused to buildings in the area. Eighteen people, most of them schoolchildren, were treated for shock after the rocket struck.
Later in the day residents of Netiv Ha'asara were ordered to remain in their bomb shelters for almost an hour as almost a dozen mortar shells struck the grounds adjacent to the Erez community near Gaza's northern border. No injuries were reported.
Chief IDF Intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Yuval Halamish confirmed on Thursday that the IDF was struggling to cope with the projectile rocket threat.
Terror groups in Gaza have adapted and advanced their methods, said Halamish, nowadays rockets can be fired automatically by electronic systems. "By the time the rocket is making its way towards Israel, the terrorist is already sipping coffee someplace far away."
Soldiers coming back from Gaza (Photo: AFP)
At least six Palestinian gunmen were killed in Thursday's operations. One IDF soldier was seriously wounded and three more sustained light injuries when an RPG was fired at the structure they were standing inside. Earlier in the week the army also struck Islamic Jihad and Hamas targets in several air strikes.
"We have our orders and we operate by those guidelines," said military sources, "and those orders are to thwart terror attacks; to strike down anyone firing Qassams or mortars and keep the terror organizations away from the border fence. There aren't any magic solutions, only grueling operations – but these yield results."
'If they don't shoot, we won't shoot'
Meanwhile on Thursday Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office denied media reports that Israel was giving serious consideration to a Hamas truce proposal delivered via Egypt.
Vice Premier Haim Ramon said however that the overture was proof that Israel's strategy is working.
''All of these ... comments, and the messages coming in all kinds of strange ways, all of these things are a kind of smoke screen that just shows that Israel's recent policy toward Palestinian terror is bearing fruit,'' Ramon said.
IDF officers said the pacing of the armys operations was determined by the terror groups themselves. "Once the border isn't threatened and the Qassam rockets stop, we won't have any reason to act," said the military official, declining to comment on the reports of possible negotiations with Hamas.
"You don't need negotiations here. If they don't shoot then we obviously won't shoot," he said.