The IDF, backed by the government, called up 16,000 more reserve soldiers to join the 70,000 called up until now.
But the army does not intend to expand the area of operation at this point. In Cairo, discussions wre held between the Israeli delegation headed by GSS chief Yoram Cohen and the Egyptian security establishment.
A report of the talks in Egypt was relayed to the Americans, who, in coordination with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, renewed their mediation efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry is considering traveling back to the Middle East at the beginning of next week.
Meanwhile, the IDF is speeding up its efforts to neutralize the tunnels before it will be taken by surprise by a long-term ceasefire announcement that will find it still in the middle of the job. That is despite the fact that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel would not accept any ceasefire before it completes the tunnel mission to the last one.
Hamas and other terror organizations fired some 80 rockets into Israel yesterday, in addition to dozens of RPGs that fell near the border fence. One of the RPGs exploded in the Eshkol region and eight people were injured. One missile that was fired toward Kiryat Gat fell and exploded near homes and resulted in the serious injury of one resident, a foreign worker, and in damage to cars and property. Some nine people suffered from shock. All the injured were taken to hospitals in the center of the country and Be’er Sheva. In all, 27 civilians yesterday were injured by rocket fire, and from accidents caused while they hastened to get to reinforced rooms. Nine towns in the Eshkol regional council were cut off from electricity last night after an RPG hit a high voltage cable in the area.
The IDF responded to the missile fire by striking dozens of terror targets from the air throughout the Gaza Strip. In the middle of one of the busy Gaza streets, a car with two terrorists was struck by a missile. The identity of the terrorists was not disclosed. The Palestinians reported that 17 of their people had been killed, of which 11 were in Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip.
Sirens sounded once again in Bnei Brak and the Dan region yesterday. One missile fell and exploded in northern Tel Aviv, and a piece of shrapnel hit a local resident in the head while he was standing at the window and watching what was happening. He was evacuated to the hospital in serious condition.
On the military front, events are unfolding one after another. A Golani force detected a terrorist emerging from a tunnel opening and killed him. Then a paratrooper force saw five terrorists; they alerted the air force, who struck and killed all five.
Thursday evening, a Givati force saw a terrorist open fire at them. The force returned fire and killed him. None of the soldiers were injured. Throughout the day, some 110 terror targets were hit, among them, the homes of five senior terrorists which served as command and control centers.
It was also released for publication that on Wednesday, in the clash with terrorists in which IDF soldiers were killed, the commander of the Israeli brigade noticed one of the terrorists trying to grab the body of an Israeli soldier to drag it into a tunnel that the terrorists had emerged from. The commander summoned a tank crew and then guided them to fire an artillery shell right at the opening of the tunnel. The shell hit the target and the terrorist dropped the soldier’s body and fled.
Large forces continued searching for tunnels throughout the day. Part of the heavy equipment being used are huge D9 bulldozers. However, from time to time, and more often than with regular vehicles, these bulldozers stall when working on this kind of territory and it is necessary to repair them under fire. Toward this end, the IDF established an engineering equipment maintenance force, which is in operation for the first time in Operation Protective Edge, and saves these huge pieces of equipment and returns them to operation as quickly as possible. They have repaired 20 pieces of heavy equipment since the beginning of the operation.
Until the establishment of the unit, the combat forces were dependent on civilian contractors, who did not have the ability to deal with breakdowns in combat zones quickly.
Engineering forces are also on hand to help locate and destroy tunnels. From the moment a tunnel is discovered until it is blown up, the engineering forces are part of the entire operation. “We discover the opening using intelligence information, then we drill through and line the tunnel with explosives in preparation for blowing it up,” explains a deputy commander of an engineering battalion, Captain Ro’i.
Dealing with tunnels is very complex, and requires synchronization and cooperation of many forces. Sergeant Major Alex, joined 10 combat soldiers from the Maglan and armored corps in order to blow up an opening of a tunnel in a house, in which many weapons were also found. “The forces that we joined up with gave us cover while we imploded the tunnels,” he related.
This took place in Khan Younis, an area that the enemy had abandoned completely and even the civilians have evacuated. “Apparently, the village was a Hamas stronghold, and there was a large mouth of weapons and many tunnels, some of which crossed the border fence into Israel,” Sergeant Major Alex related. “It’s like a ghost town; everything is empty.”
Many of the homes the forces came upon are rigged with explosives, and there were weapons all over. Therefore, for safety reasons, every step is taken with caution. “After discovering the tunnel opening it is scanned to ensure that the enemy cannot surprise the forces from inside, and to ensure that the opening itself is not rigged,” Alex detailed. “Then we deal with the tunnel using explosives.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said yesterday at the beginning of a cabinet meeting that the IDF was working full force in Gaza to neutralize the tunnels. The tunnels provide Hamas with the ability to kidnap and murder civilians and soldiers with a simultaneous infiltration through many tunnels at once. That is what we are undoing now, taking away that ability, the Prime Minister said.
“I said at the beginning that there is no guarantee for 100 percent success, just like Iron Dome does not provide an absolute solution. But there are significant results to the IDF’s activities. We have neutralized dozens of tunnels and we are determined to complete this mission, with or without a ceasefire. Therefore, I will not agree to any proposal that does not enable the IDF to complete this important task for the safety of Israel’s population.”
He added that Hamas has been dealt a major blow both by the IDF and the GSS, which have destroyed command centers, launchers, tunnels, weapons, rockets and hundreds of terrorists have been killed. All this is only the first step to demilitarizing the Strip, he said. The United States, the European Union and other important entities in the international community have accepted our stance on this, he said, “and I must say, it was not easy to achieve. But we achieved it together, with hard work. Naturally, it is impossible to share with the public all the information and considerations that guide us. We have an organized plan and we are working in accordance with it.
“The unity of the leadership is important for the success of the operation, and it is also important for Am Yisrael, just like the unity in the nation gives us the strength to continue this responsible, difficult task. I have no doubt that this unity gives more power to our soldiers at the front, and yet there is still a minority in the public who, specially now, choose to radicalize its positions on either side. I call on you: don’t damage the special unity that exists among us. Be careful with way you say and what you do and, more than everything, the government ministers are the ones who have to set a personal example for the public. At this time, the nation expects from all of us, first and foremost the government ministers, to unite behind the goal. When our soldiers are fighting an enemy and risking their lives for us, we owe them that. The more united we are the stronger we are.”
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon noted that the IDF had killed hundreds of Hamas terrorists of varying ranks. “We know that Hamas and the other groups are hiding the number of terrorists that have been killed.” Yaalon was referring to a speech by a Hamas leader who claimed that the group had defeated the IDF.
“I suggest that you don’t get impressed by one speech or another, which are all taped under the cover of civilian installations or women and children as human shields. It will not change the reality and the facts on the ground. The reality is that Hamas is paying a very heavy price.
“I want to remind you that Hamas uses schools, hospitals and uninvolved civilians to fire at Israel.
“This operation is being conducted with responsibility and deliberation, and through the right view of the overall reality. The combination of efforts by the government and military echelons, led by the prime minister, is exceptional,” he said.