The report was made during heavy fighting between the Israeli
military and Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip in an operation dubbed "Hot
Winter." At least 20 Palestinians were killed in fighting in northern Gaza,
most of them in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jabalya.
On March 3, Israeli troops, amid U.S. criticism, left the Gaza Strip in a
move hailed by Hamas as a major victory. Palestinian gunners continued to
fire Katyusha rockets toward the Israeli city of Ashkelon, which contains
Officials said between 50 and 100 weapons specialists and combat
trainers entered the Gaza Strip in late January. They said most of the
instructors were Palestinians trained in Iran and Lebanon as well as in Al
Qaida camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
They said the specialists were sent to Egypt's Sinai
Peninsula and entered the Gaza Strip after the Hamas regime destroyed much
of the 12-kilometer border wall on Jan. 23.
"These people are experts in weapons production, bombs and missiles, and
will solve Hamas's problems in extending the range and improving the
accuracy of missiles and rockets," an official said.
On Feb. 26, military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin briefed
the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the repercussions of
the two-week breach in the Egyptian-Gaza border, which enabled 700,000
Palestinians to enter Sinai. Yadlin said the Hamas regime was significantly
bolstered by the influx of specialists and weapons in the Gaza Strip in
January and early February.
Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said Hamas has been using
civilians to transport missiles. Ashkenazi told the Cabinet that Hamas was
found to have placed a Katyusha rocket in the wagon of an elderly man.
On March 2, Hamas continued to fire the BM-21 Grad rocket, a Katyusha
variant, into Israel. Several of the 122 mm rockets, with a range of more
than 20 kilometers, landed in the southern Israeli cities of Ashkelon and
Officials said the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been
discussing a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip and the destruction of
the Hamas regime. They said Defense Minister Ehud Barak has won approval
from most of the Cabinet.
"We have to be organized for it to get more serious, because the big
ground operation is real, tangible," Barak said.
Officials, however, said Olmert would not decide to resume the
ground operation in Gaza without approval from the United States.
"When the green light is given for the Israel Defense Forces to go in
with its full force," Barak said, "the goals will be first of all, halting
Kassam fire; second, reducing weapons smuggling from Egypt; third, weakening
Hamas rule, and, under the right circumstances, overthrowing the Hamas
government, and, in the long term, complete severance from the Gaza Strip."