Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Nissan 5761 - April 18, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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IDF Forces Move Temporarily into Gaza Strip
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

In response to Palestinian mortar shelling of Shderot, a town in the south within the recognized international borders of Israel ("the Green Line"), IDF forces took up key positions at locations throughout the Gaza Strip Tuesday morning, effectively cutting it into thirds and preventing Palestinians from traveling from one sector to another. According to army spokesman, this step is very effective in crippling the abilities of terrorists to plan and carry out their evil work.

There are no reports of injuries to soldiers in the comprehensive air, land and sea operation that continued throughout Monday night into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Senior sources in the Prime minister's Office said Israel has no intention of conquering Palestinian Authority, Israel Radio reported. The IDF activity was intended to strike exclusively at terrorist elements attacking Israelis, and to calm the situation, allowing negotiations to resume, the source said.

However, IDF troops also seized a piece of Palestinian- controlled territory Tuesday in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, near the village of Beit Hanoun, from where mortar shells were fired Monday at the Negev town of Shderot.

Soldiers and army bulldozers penetrated several hundred meters into territory under control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Military sources said that the army would continue to hold onto the area for as long as it took to stop the firing of mortar shells, but that it had no intention of conquering PA areas and holding onto them for a long time.

Also Tuesday morning, army bulldozers uprooted orchards east of Beit Hanoun, which the IDF said Palestinian mortar cells were using as cover.

The five mortar rounds that landed on Shderot Monday night were fired from Beit Hanoun, according to the IDF Spokesman.

Earlier, IAF helicopter gunships and Israel Navy ships rocketed the headquarters of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Force 17, Palestinian Police positions, and a naval post in Dir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip Monday night after Palestinian gunmen fired five mortar rounds on the Negev town of Shderot.

At least four persons were wounded in the IAF attack on the Force 17 headquarters, a police officer at the scene said. More casualties were prevented by the evacuation of the area beforehand.

The Palestinian attack came less than 24 hours after an IAF raid on a Syrian army radar station in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, sparking fears of an escalating conflict. The raid in Lebanon in turn, was a reprisal for a Hizbullah rocket attack that killed an Israeli tank commander in the Har Dov area.

The 82 mm. mortar shells, which police said have an estimated range of about 1,500 meters, landed around 6 P.M. in Shderot's western most neighborhood of single family homes, closest to Gaza. The town lies about 5 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. One shell landed 20 meters from Mayor Eli Moyal's house.

Damage, boruch Hashem, was light. One person suffering from shock was taken to the hospital, and the windows of some of the houses near where one of the mortar shells hit were damaged. There was no panic, but there was shock.

IDF sources suggested that the choice of Shderot as a target may not have been a coincidence -- though nobody commented on the fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Sycamore Ranch is only a few more kilometers east of Shderot. So far, only small settlements, such as Kibbutz Nahal Oz and Netiv Ha'asara, have been targeted. Nevertheless, the fact that a large and densely populated town well inside Israel had been targeted was seen as a marked escalation by the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians are trying to make Israeli civilians feel insecure everywhere in Israel," said a senior IDF source.

A very senior IDF source said Monday night that the army is operating on the assumption that the Palestinians also have mortars in the West Bank. He said that he fact that they haven't used the mortars from the West Bank "fortifies our thesis that they are being systematic about the use of mortars. This is not some uncontrollable gang. I believe they understand the significance of firing mortars in the West Bank."

IDF sources say that mortar fire inside the West Bank at settlements, or from the PA to Israeli towns inside the Green Line, would result in a harsh Israeli reaction.

Shortly after the mortar attack on Shderot, Palestinians in Beit Jala shot at an IDF position below Rechov Ha'anafa in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, at soldiers at a post on the Jerusalem-Gush Etzion road, and at an IDF post at kever Rochel outside Bethlehem. Earlier, shots were fired at an IDF position near the Shdema army base.

The IDF responded with light weapons and then tank fire at Palestinian positions in El Khader and Beit Jala.

Sharon adviser Ra'anan Gissin termed the mortar attack on Shderot a "very serious escalation" that justified Israel's response. He added that the Palestinian security forces have turned from a "police force" into terror organizations.

Arafat "is looking for the ultimate provocation, to force Israel into an action that will cause an escalation, and lead to international intervention," Gissin said. "But he will not be able to provoke us. We will take measured responses."

Gissin said the cabinet ministers were informed of Israel's response as it was taking place. At a previous meeting of the security cabinet, Sharon, Ben-Eliezer, and Peres -- termed the mini-cabinet -- were empowered to take responsive measures to Palestinian attacks without having to convene the entire security cabinet.


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