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IDF tank near Gaza
Photo: AFP
IDF forces prepare for Gaza incursion
Dozens of tanks, artillery battery positioned just north of Gaza to reinforce infantry, engineering corps forces already inside Strip ahead of possible large-scale ground operation. PM returns from Japan, updated on Grad, Qassam rocket attacks on Ashkelon

Over the past few days the IDF has positioned an artillery battery near Kibbutz Beeri, located about three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the Gaza border, and dozens of tanks have made their way to an assembling area just north of the Strip.

 

The last time an artillery battery was stationed in the area was in May 2007. The mobile artillery units, which were used to target areas from which Qassam rockets are launched toward Israel, have been all but deactivated due to a number of incidents in the past, including the November 2006 attack in which an errant artillery shell killed 21 Palestinians in Beit Hanoun.

 

Forces from the Givati Brigade, the Armored Corps' 9th Battalion and the Engineering Corps have already entered the Strip ahead of a possible large-scale ground incursion.

 

The reinforcements, while limited, appear to indicate increased readiness on the part of the IDF.

 

Meanwhile, during his flight back from Japan Friday morning, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was updated on Thursday's Grad and Qassam rocket attacks on Ashkelon and the western Negev. The political-security cabinet is scheduled to convene Wednesday to discuss the escalation in the south.

 

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Egyptian intelligence chief Omer Suleiman are due in Israel Tuesday.

 

The massive rocket barrages on Israel have prompted the IDF to intensify its aerial onslaught on the Strip. Israeli aircraft have waged dozens of strikes on numerous targets over the past 24 hours, killing 31 Palestinians, among them a number of children.

 

The army is currently focusing its attacks on Hamas positions and weapons caches and on rocket-launching cells.

 

Roni Sofer contributed to the report

 

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