Yesterday was one of Israel's more successful days in its long-running war against Palestinian terrorism, featuring five Israel Air Force attacks on terrorist targets in Gaza - yet the army found itself on the defensive this morning, in light of the incidental death of five civilians in the attacks. At least eight terrorists were killed, and several weapons and explosives factories were destroyed. Army sources said that in the last attack, two terrorists were killed while trying to infiltrate into pre-1967 Israel.
IDF Spokesperson Ruth Yaron, who issued an official apology on behalf of the IDF for the killings, said, "When we have to apologize, we do. But we have to understood what happened there: Terrorists were on their way [to perpetrating an attack against Israeli civilians in Nachal Oz], and our action prevented a major catastrophe... At the same time, we have to see how we reduce these deaths of civilians to a minimum. But it must be understood how difficult this is..." Army sources reported this afternoon that only 1-3 of those killed were not terrorists, and not many more as had been previously reported.
Deputy Defense Minister Ze'ev Boim, asked this morning about the killing of the civilians, said, "Some - not all - of the civilians there are not exactly innocent. They cooperate with the terrorists, help out in hiding the weapons and explosives, and sometimes are even paid for their efforts." Boim also said that the terrorist networks are implanted deep within the residential neighborhoods.
The attack in question began when an IDF unit saw a terrorist cell on its way towards Nachal Oz, and opened pursuit. A combat helicopter fired a missile at the escaping terrorists, killing two of them - and 15 seconds later, fired a second missile as the other terrorists' getaway car entered the terrorist-stronghold neighborhood of Nuseirat. It was this missile that killed seven other Arabs. Finkler noted that Israel Air Force spokesmen firmly denied PA claims that the second missile was purposely fired several minutes later into a crowd of civilians that had gathered outside the targeted car. "Those who were hurt and killed 'incidentally' were not merely innocent passersby," Finkler noted. "They rather knew exactly what was going on." Army officials said afterwards that a major suicide attack against Israelis had thus been thwarted.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources are threatening to avenge the attacks in a "non-ordinary" manner, "not in the mild way to which the Zionists have become accustomed." The U.S. State Department warned all American citizens to leave the Gaza Strip, and recommended against visiting "Israel or the West Bank" in the near future. Military commentators have said in the past that there is no such thing as Hamas "revenge," as the terrorists continually attempt to attack, and do so whenever the opportunity arises, regardless of Israel's actions.
In other incidents in the ongoing Oslo War, Palestinian terrorists fired four mortar shells late this afternoon at Gush Katif, and three others at an area near Netivot in the Negev. No one was hurt, but damage was caused to one building. In addition, Arabs shot at workers in Rafiach Yam this morning; no one was hurt.
Minister Dr. Uzi Landau, who served as Public Security Minister in the previous government, says that counter-terrorism strikes must continue. He says that the government should publish a list of names of all the terrorists being sought, thus informing PA residents which persons are to be targeted in counter-terrorism operations. This will enable the innocent residents to know from whom they must keep their distance, in order to avoid injury or death during a possible Israeli strike against the terrorists.