Defense Minister Ehud Barak convened a press conference on Saturday afternoon to formally announce the beginning of the IDF's operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The offensive was lauched at around 11:30 am, with the IDF carrying out two separate waves of attacks. Some 80 warplanes and helicopters took part in the assault, and over 100 bombs were dropped on dozens of targets.
Palestinian health officials reported 205 people killed in the strikes, which targeted numerous Hamas compounds, bases and weaponry storage facilities.
Operation 'Cast Lead':
The rocket fire from Gaza is showing no sign of letting up. In a Qassam barrage fired at 17:20, one man was seriously wounded in the Eshkol Regional Council. Earlier in the day a man was killed in Netivot after a rocket slammed into an apartment building.
Defense officials estimated Saturday that Israel could expect around 200 rockets and mortar shells a day during the operation.
The officials said the operation would involve mostly the IAF, which is using precision weaponry to obliterate Hamas' underground facilities, but added that other forces may be sent in if necessary. The IAF is currently preparing for dozens of daily sorties into Gaza. Unmanned aircrafts will also assist with gathering intelligence.
Barak laid out the three objectives of the offensive – dealing Hamas a forceful blow, fundamentally changing the situation in Gaza, and bringing to the cessation of rocket attacks against Israeli citizens.
"There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting. The operation will expand as necessary," said Barak.
"I don't want to mislead anyone. This won't be easy and it won't be short, but we must be determined," he added. "The time has come to act. We do not go to this clash gladly, but neither are we afraid of it. We will not let terrorists hurt our citizens or soldiers. We will do what is necessary. For weeks Hamas and its affiliates lobbed Qassams and Grads and mortar shells on the towns and communities of the South. We have no intention of allowing this situation to continue."
Evacuating wounded man after strike (Photo: AFP)
The defense minister detailed the launch of the operation: "In the afternoon IAF aircraft attacked Hamas and terror targets in the Gaza Strip. In this strike the IAF hit more than 190 Hamas operatives, including senior police officials, and destroyed infrastructure used by the terror groups.
Barak noted in his statement to the press that the IDF and defense establishment have been preparing for the operation several weeks now. "The war on terror is an ongoing one, and we must be
patient if we want to change the situation. I am in constant contact with the prime minister and the chief of staff. We are working in coordination and hold routine situation assessments."
Barak spoke of the Israeli killed in Netivot. "Unfortunately, we also have casualties. The increased rocket attacks are expected to continue for some time. We are confident in the courage of the citizens, who will help us in completing this operation.
"We are a nation that seeks life, and we must we must do everything to restore calm."