"We defeated them, Am Israel Chai (the Jewish people live)", said an injured soldier Saturday night, gesturing a Victory Sign with his hand as he entered an Israeli hospital after being injured in combat in the Gaza Strip.
But his comrades and the Israel Defense Forces and government elite, who were convening Sunday morning at the Kirya army base in Tel Aviv, know perfectly well that the battle has only just begun.
On the ninth day since the fighting broke out,
thousands of soldiers are now inside the Strip in the largest operation in the area since the disengagement,
after launching a ground operation on Saturday.
During the invasion and takeover of rocket launchers in the northern Strip, 20 soldiers were injured,
two of them suffering serious wounds, in a mortar shell attack on a Golani force.
Ten other solders also suffered different degrees of cold weather injuries.
Gaza Division chief, Brigadier-General Eyal Eisenberg, is commanding the operation, in which Armored and Engineering corps units, as well as infantry soldiers are taking part. Eisenberg also commanded a division during the Second Lebanon War.
The IDF placed an embargo on the exact details of the ground operations. Palestinians reported that the Strip was divided into three, as Israel used to do in its wide-scale operations on the eve of the pullout. The goal is to separate between the different parts of the Strip and prevent the transfer of weapons between them.
Palestinians also reported of extensive activity taking place in the area where the former settlement of Netzarim was located.
According to Israeli reports, dozens of Hamas
gunmen were hit on the first night of the ground operation. The ruling organization in Gaza has refrained from making any statements regarding the scope of casualties on its part.
The aerial attacks continued alongside the ground invasion, with a number of smuggling tunnels being hit, as well as a fuel facility in Beit Lahiya. In the western Negev, after a relatively quiet night, several Qassam rockets exploded
in open fields and one hit a house in Sderot.
Tens of thousands of reserves soldiers will be recruited Sunday morning to join in the ground operation and replace the regular soldiers that were deployed to the Strip.
According to the IDF, the ground operation's goal is "to seriously damage the Hamas layout by taking over launch areas and strengthening deterrence, in order to create a better security reality for a longer time".
Saturday night, when announcing the opening of the ground incursion, Defense Minister Ehud Barak
said there would also be losses on the Israeli side.
"Being lovers of peace, we have bit out lips for a long time, but it is time to do what needs to be done to give our citizens what all the citizens of the world deserve – peace and quiet – and to remove as much as possible any future threats.
"We are in the middle of a complex struggle – but are right, united, and determined. We will emerge from it with the upper hand," Barak said.
Meanwhile, Southern Command Chief Major-General Yoav Galant ordered an expansion of the Gaza vicinity closed military zone. The order now includes the area west of Sderot, Ofakim and Netivot, and several roads in the area will be closed off.