(VIDEO) Operation “Blue Skies” underway: The Air Force struck at six northern Gaza access roads leading to Qassam rocket launching sites early Thursday. Army officials said the raids were meant to hamper ongoing rocket attacks on Israeli targets.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, as planned, IDF forces launched a large-scale operation, firing artillery rounds against targets in the northern Gaza Strip and at the areas in close proximity to the newly established ‘security strip,’ which is aimed at distancing Qassam launchers from the border with Israel.
Operation “Blue Skies” (Footage: Reuters)
The Israel Air Force is also due to join the operation to clear north Gaza of those not engaged in terror activity.
Area sealed off to Palestinian movement
An hour before the operation commenced a Qassam rocket landed just south of Sderot in an open field. No injuries or damage were reported. The city’s “Red Dawn” alert system warned residents of the incoming rocket.
Earlier the army distributed leaflets to northern Gaza residents featuring a map indicating the limits of the buffer zone, which includes areas evacuated by Israel in the summer – the former settlements of Elei Sinai, Nissanit, and Dugit.
IDF gun aims at northern Gaza (Photo: AP)
"Whoever ignores this warning is putting his life in genuine danger," the leaflet said. "Know that terror elements have turned you into hostages and a human shield and are undermining your interests."
Operation "Blue Skies" marks an IDF attempt to move into high gear when it comes to Qassam rocket attacks but to do so by offering a measured response and avoiding an escalation in the area. Army officials admitted the operation may reduce the number of rocket attacks on Israel but would not curb them completely.
'Situation is definitely frightening'
“The first phase is intended to create an area empty of citizens and all those who are not engaged in terror activity,” and IDF official told Ynet.
“In this way, anyone who remains in the area is considered a terror suspect and therefore may be harmed.”
Earlier IDF officers met with their Palestinian counterparts and presented maps detailing the area in which the army will increasingly operate.
While Palestinian Authority sources stated that police officers would not be evacuated from northern Gaza due to operation “Blue Skies,” eyewitnesses reported of entire police outposts being cleared.
Sources in the Palestinian Authority said that in the meantime no families have left their homes following the IDF attacks. Abu Alla Swilam, a resident of the town of Beit Hanun, told Ynet that in spite of the bombardment, which is "very frightening," he does not intend on leaving the town.
"During the current intifada I was forced to leave my home four times. I have no intention of leaving this time. From here they will only take us to the cemetery," he said.
Hassan, a schoolteacher in north Gaza, told Ynet, “No one intends to leave their homes. Their will not be an exodus of residents from the north into the central part of the Strip, but the situation is definitely frightening.”
“On the one hand we have gotten used to the IDF’s threats, operations and bombings, but this is different, because this time the threat appears to be more concrete and substantial,” he added.
“We are waiting to see how things develop in the coming hours, but we do not plan to pack up our belongings and leave our homes.”
Ali Waked and Shmulik Hadad contributed to the report