It was another difficult, bloody day yesterday in Operation Protective Edge, as the war escalates with no seeming end in sight. Now there isn’t even an ostensible ceasefire in place.
Ten IDF soldiers were killed in the past day, and 24 were wounded in a series of deadly incidents, some of which took place inside the Strip, but most of which were actually on Israeli territory.
Yesterday, the IDF convened together with the government for a briefing on the situation. At the conclusion of the meeting, the government will instruct the IDF as to how to continue the operation. Already last night, it was clear that Israel is planning to expand its operations in several areas, and massive air and ground strikes against new targets that have not yet been touched are expected to begin.
The incidents began Monday morning when a Palestinian sniper hit an Israeli soldier, who was then evacuated by a helicopter that came to the scene. While under fire, it transferred the patient to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva. At lunchtime, eight terrorists staked out in a house in Gaza opened RPG fire at a huge D9 Israeli tractor. For reasons that are yet unclear, the missile penetrated the tractor’s protective envelope and hit the soldier inside, killing him. Two other soldiers were injured.
The driver of the D9, who was right nearby, saw the incident, and raced with his vehicle toward the house where the terrorists were hiding and demolished it with them inside, killing all eight.
The third incident took place at about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, when, soldiers were gathering in order to enter the Strip near Kibbutz Be’eri, inside Israel. Suddenly, an RPG fired from Gaza landed in the area where the soldiers were resting. Four soldiers were killed and 17 were wounded.
The fourth incident took place between Kibbutz Nachal Oz and the Karni crossing into the northern Gaza Strip. Five or six terrorists penetrated into Israel through a tunnel — which Israel knew about — but which apparently had an opening that had not yet been discovered. They emerged 150 meters into Israeli territory, near a military guard tower. The terrorist fired RPGs at the tower where the soldiers were, killing five of them, all from the IDF officers’ training school. The other soldiers were in a lookout post on the upper level of the tower and were not injured, but they detected the terrorists attempting to abduct the bodies of their dead comrades to take them into the tunnel. The soldiers opened fire, and the terrorists got frightened, tossed their weapons and the bodies down, and fled back into the tunnel opening. One terrorist was killed, the others escaped.
The casualties whose names were released for publication at press time are:
Staff Sergeant Moshe Davino, 20, of Yerushalayim, who was killed inside the Gaza Strip; and the four who were killed by the RPG: Staff Sergeant Eliyahu Chaim Kachlon, 22, of Tzefas; Corporal Meidan Maimon Bitton, 20, of Netivot; Corporal Niran Cohen, 20, of Teveriah and Sergeant Major Adi Breiga, 23 of Beit Shikmah, Hy”d.
In addition, five more soldiers were killed; their families were notified.
Since the beginning of the operation, 53 soldiers and officers have been killed.
Following the escalation and Hamas’ blatant violation of all understandings, the government instructed the IDF to expand the areas of operation and increase the intensity of the air, land and sea strikes. The IDF has called on residents of many neighborhoods in the strip to leave their homes immediately, and the sounds of artillery fire could be heard across large swaths of the Strip.
In light of the repeated rocket fire by Hamas during what was supposed to be a humanitarian ceasefire to benefit the civilians of the Gaza Strip, the IDF’s airstrikes resumed Monday morning, as did ground and sea offensives. The IDF warned Gazans not to approach the area of the fighting. Among the targets that were hit were concealed launchers that were used to fire into Israel and terror tunnels.
Throughout the day, the IDF continued working to render the tunnels useless; some were completely destroyed, while others were partially exploded. In addition, a tunnel that crosses the security fence by 600 meters was discovered opposite the town of Be’eri.
Throughout the day, four terrorists were targeted: one was shot from the air near Khan Younis, and the others were taken out in the middle of the Gaza Strip at a well known launch site.
During raids conducted by the Givati Brigade in the southern Gaza Strip, soldiers discovered a large minefield that spanned two main roads that run parallel one to another. Aside from the mines, six different houses in the area were wired with explosives. The force that exposed the explosives took extra caution, and thus prevented a disaster. The entire area was bombed by the air force several times to ensure the safety of the forces working nearby.
Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz, who came to visit the armored corps, said that “until now, this corps has done very good work; taking out tunnels was a super-important achievement, first of all in order to protect the residents of the south, and second, the neutralize Hamas strategic abilities.”
Monday was a day of contrasts. What began in a morning as a humanitarian ceasefire, which was not agreed upon formally, but was an understanding between the sides mediated by the United Nations to enable the residents of the Gaza Strip celebrate Eid al-Fitr with shopping and feasts, quickly deteriorated into a bloody day with several fatal incidents. By the end of the day there were many dead and wounded Israeli soldiers, and thousands of residents of Gaza fled with their shopping baskets back into their bunkers, after the IDF was compelled to renew air strikes.
This “ceasefire” was over almost before it began. Already early in the morning, sirens sounded in the towns around Gaza, Ashkelon and other more northern cities.
Hamas did not fulfill its own request for calm and resumed firing. The IDF, instructed by the government, waited an hour, and then another hour; after it became clear that no calm was in store, and that the firing was also harming civilians and soldiers in the Strip, the signal was given to resume full military operations, and to begin to expand the operation.
Israel had threatened, “If we have to resume operations we will increase the intensity of the fire,” and carried it out. Monday afternoon, a short time after terrorists fired at and hit a group of Israeli soldiers waiting at a base to enter Gaza, fighter planes and cannons both resumed activity.
Towards evening, it escalated when Israel issued a warning to the population, including phone calls and text messages, calling on residents of Saajaiya, Zeitoun, and East Jabalya to evacuate their homes immediately to central Gaza City and westward toward the sea. All Gazans knew clearly what Israel intended with this message: that it was getting ready to deploy IDF soldiers in the zone that is the closest to Gaza City. This is not only the pulse of the Gaza Strip, it is also the place where all Hamas senior terrorists are hiding, and they are beginning to feel the noose tightening around their necks.
For a moment it seemed Monday evening that Israel had already begun operating in Gaza City as well, after initial reports came through of an Israeli strike, and clouds of smoke could be seen rising from Shifa Hospital in central Gaza. But it quickly became clear that the IDF was not there yet. What had caused the loud explosions near Shifa were Hamas operatives trying to send one of their missiles from a building near the hospital. The missile exploded in their hands and caused casualties, who were presented on world media as victims of an Israeli attack on the hospital.
Monday night, after it became clear that any ceasefire was built on false hopes, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and CGS Benny Gantz appeared before the media and delivered a “state of the operation” address.
Netanyahu, who was expected to announce the expansion of the operation, was laconic right from the start, beginning with his oft-repeated statement of “there is no more justified war than the one we are fighting now.”
“We knew,” he said, “that we would have difficult days, and today is a painful, hard day. We need patience and determination to continue our struggle against a deadly terror organization that strives to destroy us. Even now, we are continuing to neutralize and destroy terror tunnels. We will not conclude this operation without neutralizing tunnels, whose entire objective is to kill our civilians and our children. This is a clear- cut objective of the State of Israel, and the need to do so is urgent.
“The operation against the tunnels is the first and necessary step to disarm Gaza. The process of preventing terror organizations from arming and demilitarizing the Gaza Strip has to be part of any solution. The international community has to firmly demand this. Instead of the international community allowing money to enter the Gaza Strip through Hamas for cement and bricks to build tunnels endlessly, there has to be oversight and control. In the past, when we raised these demands and presented our concerns, no one addressed them seriously. That has to change. It is inconceivable that the citizens of the State of Israel have to live under the threat of death either from rockets or from infiltration of terrorists through tunnels — death from above and below.
“Hamas violated all ceasefire proposals, every single one. We are facing a brutal enemy that is cruel not only to us, to our civilians, but also to its own civilians. It takes advantage of its civilians and forces them to withstand more and more casualties, while firing deadly missiles at us constantly.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said that if the heads of Hamas think that they will be able to “communicate” with us regularly with missiles and rockets, they are seriously mistaken. We will bite our lips in pain over our fallen, but we will not be deterred from continuing this battle until Hamas realizes that the current reality is destructive for them and for the residents of Gaza.
“We are distraught over every civilian that is harmed and over all the civilian infrastructure that has been destroyed, and we will not compromise about it. The residents of Gaza and the world should know that Hamas uses its civilians as human shields, fires from schools and hospitals, and its operatives hide beneath the ground, and with them, as an insurance ploy, they take women and children. While we protect our children and civilians, Hamas sacrifices its children and civilians. The residents of Gaza should know this. The world should know this.”
The CGS, Major-General Benny Gantz noted that “we are dealing with the tunnel network. This is a network that spans all over the Gaza Strip. It is complex, but determined, fighting, which focuses step after step, tunnel opening after tunnel opening, tunnel after tunnel, clash after clash. This operation is advancing in an excellent fashion,” he declared.
Gantz later addressed the claim that those not involved in the fighting have been harmed. “… like most Israelis, we are pained to see civilians harmed. We make every effort to warn civilians and distance them, and to direct our fire to the terrorists. Hamas works out of very dense urban areas, and from among its population, in a way that inflicts the fire on them as well. There is a moral obligation there, and as far as protecting our civilians; the destruction is what Hamas is doing to itself,” Gantz said.
In the evening, there was a report that the IDF has struck Shifa Hospital, a claim refuted by the CGS. “I have an aerial photo here in my hand, and we are continuing to analyze Hamas firings from the area of the hospital,” he related. “We will work with the necessary determination, we will try not to harm civilians, but the residents of Gaza are advised to distance themselves from places where Hamas operates. We will get there, and when we do, it will be painful,” the Chief of General Staff warned.
Israel also hastened to issue messages to all its allies in the world emphasizing that Yerushalayim immediately accepted the United Nations’ call for a humanitarian ceasefire, but Hamas was the one who violated it repeatedly.
Netanyahu asked his aides to call U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the conversation took place in the late afternoon Monday.
Netanyahu conveyed a strong message, sharply protesting the way Hamas has been posturing, after asking Israel through the United Nations for a humanitarian ceasefire, and then violating it after Israel agreed to it.
Netanyahu told Ban that “the Security Council declaration from Monday addresses the needs of a deadly terror organization that attacks Israeli civilians, and there is no solution to the security needs of Israel, including the demilitarizing of the Gaza Strip, in accordance with a principle already agreed upon in interim agreements with the Palestinians.
“Israel agreed three times to United Nations proposals for humanitarian ceasefires and Hamas violated them all. They are continuing to fire right now at Israeli civilians. Israel will continue to deal with the terror tunnels. This is just the first step of the demilitarization. Instead of international money being used to build terror tunnels to carry out mass attacks against Israeli civilians, the international community needs to work to demilitarize Gaza.”