IDF operates in heart of Gaza, kills 2 Palestinians
Exchanges of fire erupt during night operation launched by Israeli forces in Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitoun; mortar shells fired at forces. Top Hamas member killed; Palestinians say 70-year-old woman also killed. Several Palestinians wounded. Simultaneously, IDF forces operating in northern Strip town of Beit Lahiya
Heavy exchanges of fire, including firing of mortar shells, erupted in Zeitoun, and a senior wanted Palestinian suspect was killed. The man was identified as Ayman Hasnan, a member of the Izz al-Din al-QassaM Brigades, Hamas' military wing.
According to the Palestinians, a 70-year-old woman was also killed. Several Palestinians were wounded.
The operation in Zeitoun was led by an elite unit of troops disguised as Arabs, and according to Palestinian sources, the forces began withdrawing in the morning.
Military sources reported that the forces arrested a number of terrorists. Palestinian sources reported that among those detained was the brother of the Hamas member killed.
Sources in the Southern Command stressed that the operation was one of a series of operations carried out by the IDF inside the Gaza Strip.
"This is a complex and courageous operation deep inside the Palestinian territory, aimed at hitting main terror centers," a military source said.
IDF soldiers enter Strip (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
Eyewitnesses and residents also reported that the forces exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen.
Strip residents told Reuters that a column of about 30 tanks penetrated the heart of Gaza City and entered the Zeitoun district, a known militant stronghold, they said.
An eyewitness told Ynet that many forces were seen entering the northern Strip Monday night. The IDF Spokesperson's Office confirmed that soldiers were operating in the northern Gaza Strip and said that it was a "concrete operation," but refused to provide additional details.
The operation appeared to be the most intensive Israeli ground force raid into Gaza City since Israel launched an offensive in June after gunmen captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid.
A smaller force raided Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, an area more frequently targeted by Israeli forces in their attempts to stop militants from firing rockets into the Jewish state.
Raids increased since fatal rocket attackIsrael has killed more than 320 Palestinians in Gaza, about half of them civilians, since it began its offensive.
Israel has increased raids in northern Gaza since a Palestinian rocket strike last Wednesday killed an Israeli woman and seriously wounded a man in the town of Sderot.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Monday Israel would carry on fighting militants who fired rockets into Israel from Gaza but there were no plans to reoccupy the coastal territory the Jewish state quit last year.
"I emphasize that our hand is outstretched in peace, but anybody who rejects it ... should know that ... we will do all we can to sever the hand which uses terror," Peretz said in a speech carried by Israeli radio.
"We have no intention of making concessions to anybody, we have no intention of being dragged in to reoccupying Gaza, but we have every intention of protecting our citizens."
Palestinian gunmen have stepped up rocket fire since Israel killed 19 civilians, including women and children, in a November 8 artillery shelling of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.
Israel apologized for the shelling, which it blamed on a technical failure, but said it was in response to the Palestinian rocket fire.
On Monday, an Israeli missile struck a car in Gaza City killing both its occupants.
The ruling Hamas group identified the two men as local commanders of the Islamist movement. Four people, including two children, were wounded.
Ali Waked and Reuters contributed to the report