The IAF's attack against targets in Gaza on Saturday was the most lethal single day of bombing in the region in at least 41 years, experts said. The IAF executed over 170 sorties against 60 targets, reportedly killing over 200 and wounding hundreds of others. Most of the casualties are Hamas terrorists, according to both IDF and Arab journalistic sources.
According to security sources, the operation will take weeks.
Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
Among the sites attacked were Hamas command posts and training grounds. Some of the tunnels which connect Gaza with Egypt reportedly shook as a result of the bombing and sent smugglers scurrying in order to avoid being trapped inside them.
Military sources said more than 100 tons of ordinance were dropped on Gaza by mid-afternoon.
Hamas's Interior Ministry said that all security compounds in Gaza were destroyed.
Olmert addresses nation
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered a live televised speech to the nation of Israel on Saturday evening in which he said the operation had been approved by the Security Cabinet on Wednesday.
"Hamas showed in the past few days that its intentions are hostile," Olmert said.
Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit
"The operation is intended to radically improve the security situation of the residents of southern Israel. It could take time, and each one of us has to exercise a measure of patience in order to complete the mission," he added.
"It is possible that in the short term, the number of missiles [fired from Gaza] will increase and that these will reach locations more distant than what we have been used to," he warned.
Olmert said that Israel had invested time and effort in preparing the home front for an emergency situation.
"On Thursday I made it clear to the residents of Gaza that we are not acting against them. We will do everything possible to prevent a humanitarian crisis," he said. "Residents of Gaza – you are not our enemies and we are not fighting against you," he added.
Olmert notified opposition party leaders Binyamin Netayahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Chaim Oron of the impending operation on Saturday morning. Shas party chairman Eli Yishai was also informed despite the Sabbath.
'This is the expression of our right to self defense'
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said in a statement: "Until now we have shown restraint. But today there is no other option than a military operation. We need to protect our citizens from attack through a military response against the terror infrastructure in Gaza."
"This is the expression of our basic right to self-defense," she explained.
"Israel left Gaza in order to create an opportunity for peace. In return, the Hamas terror organization took control of Gaza and is using its citizens as cover while it deliberately targets Israeli communities and denies any chance for peace.
"We have tried everything to reach calm without using force. We agreed to a truce through Egypt that was violated by Hamas, which continued to target Israel, hold Gilad Shalit and build up its arms."