TEL AVIV ø Israel's military is reviewing the feasibility of
ground operations in the Gaza Strip in wake of the killing of six soldiers. The option of a return to air strikes targeting weapons factories is under consideration.
Military sources said the General Staff and Southern Command would
review Tuesday's ground force operation in Gaza City in an effort to
determine the feasibility of such missions. The sources said the review
would also examine whether ground force operations into Gaza City represent
an unacceptable risk to Israeli forces.
Six Israeli soldiers from an engineering unit were killed when their
U.S.-origin M113 armored personnel carrier was destroyed by a mine in Gaza
City, Middle East Newsline reported. The mine, claimed to have been placed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, set
off a blast of 100 kilograms of explosives stored in the APC and intended
for the destruction of Palestinian weapons facilities.
"The APC was carrying explosives intended to be used to destroy the
workshops," an Israeli military statement said.
Officials said Southern Command decided on a ground force operation in
Gaza City to reduce the prospect of collateral damage. The operation was
meant to destroy Palestinian missile and mortar production facilities in the
Gaza Strip neighborhood of Zeitoun, a Hamas and Islamic Jihad stronghold.
"The reality of fighting in the Gaza Strip is very difficult," Maj. Gen.
Dan Harel, chief of Southern Command, said. "We are committed to reaching
the terrorists and their weapons facilities while we are prevented from
harming the civilian population. Because the lathes are in residential
areas, we don't strike them from the air. We do this mostly for moral
One option for the military, officials said, was to return to air
strikes against suspected insurgency targets in Gaza City and other
Palestinian urban areas. The military has employed the AH-64A Apache attack
helicopter for attacks on insurgency hideouts and leaders.
Interior Minister Avraham Poraz called on the military to bomb
Palestinian insurgency targets from the air rather than employing ground
troops. Poraz said an air strike should be preceded by Israeli aircraft
dropping leaflets that urge people in the targeted area to leave their
Military sources said the M113, capable of transporting 11 soldiers in
combat gear, was not suitable to carry a large amount of explosives. They
said the APC was deemed as highly-vulnerable to mines and roadside bombs.
The military was said to have known that insurgents had planted mines at the
entrance to Zeitoun.
Hours after the APC was destroyed, an Israeli attack helicopter fired a
missile toward a car that approached the Israeli community of Netsarim,
south of Gaza City. One passenger was killed and the others were injured,
but their identities were not disclosed.
Israeli helicopters also fired missiles toward Hamas insurgents in
Zeitoun on Wednesday. At least three Palestinians were said to have been
killed in two separate Israeli air attacks. On Tuesday, seven Palestinians
were killed in the fighting and Palestinian sources said that at one point
they identified 60 Israeli-origin Merkava Mk-3 main battle tanks deployed in
In all, the military was said to have destroyed four weapons
laboratories and one lathe -- all of which were said to have been employed
in the production of Kassam-class short-range missiles and mortars. Military
sources said additional facilities were believed to be located in Gaza City.
Israeli military sources said a large Israeli force would remain in
Zeitoun to search for the body parts of the Israeli soldiers, believed held
by Hamas and Jihad insurgents. The sources said elements of three infantry
brigades were in Zeitoun in a house-to-house search as Palestinian
insurgents fired anti-tank weapons and detonated mines.