IDF tanks have entered several hundred meters into the northern Gaza Strip near the area of the evacuated settlement of Dugit, Palestinian sources reported Thursday. So far there have been no reports of exchanges of fire in the area.
Infantry forces also went over Israel's border fence, entering the Gaza strip. "It is a limited force which entered the Strip for defensive activity aimed at preventing and reducing the Qassam fire," military sources explained.
Earlier Thursday, Ynet learned that the IDF returned its artillery batteries to the Gaza vicinity area after removing them from there last December following the incident in which 18 Palestinian civilians were killed in Beit Hanoun.
On Thursday, the Israel Air Force struck a number of targets in the Gaza Strip. The bodyguard of Interior Ministry Spokesman Khaled Abu Helal was killed in an attack on a guarding post near the spokesman's house.
At around 7:30 pm, the IAF struck a vehicle in the Rafah area in the southern Strip. The Palestinians reported that
two civilians were killed in the attack.
The IDF confirmed the air strike, but said that the people killed in the attack were members of a rocket launching cell. The army added that the Palestinians were hit while launching rockets.
Car struck in Gaza (Photo: AFP)
Earlier, two vehicles were attacked on al-Jala Street in central Gaza. Imad Shabaneh, a commander of a Qassam rocket manufacturing team, was critically injured. At lease five more Palestinians were wounded in the strikes.
IDF sources said that Shabaneh's car was carrying a large amount of weapons, including Qassam rockets. Shortly afterwards, another vehicle carrying Hamas members was attacked on the same street.
On Thursday afternoon, IDF forces sent several tanks into the northern Gaza Strip near the town of Beit Lahiya. The tanks are several hundred meters inside the security fence, providing the IDF an additional means to battle Qassam rocket fire in the area.
This is the first time that IDF tanks have entered Gaza since the ceasefire took effect six months ago.
Artillery batteries return (Photo: Amir Cohen)
Soldiers arrived in an area near the Strip and set up a number of batteries. They began setting up tents opposite the Gaza Strip. Thousands of shells have been fired from the area in the past toward launching sites in the Strip.
Over the months in which the batteries were in the area, Palestinians claimed that the shells caused casualties among civilians. In one of the incidents, which took place on November 2006, civilians were killed in Beit Hanoun due to a technical malfunction.
Following that incident, the defense minister ordered the IDF to limit the firing of shells, and eventually removed the batteries from the area.
The IDF used to fire shells at the areas where rocket launching cells operated in an attempt to distance them from the area and reduce the Qassam fire.
The decision to return the cannons to Gaza was made on Wednesday, and within less than 12 hours the regiment troops arrived at the area and began setting up a camp in the Gaza Strip.
At this stage, it is still unclear whether the batteries are being used only in order to deter the Palestinians, and whether the soldiers would be allowed to fire shells only after receiving approval from a major-general.
Hanan Greenberg and news agencies contributed to the report