DM Mofaz Calls for Expanded ´Buffer Zone´ in Northern Gaza

Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz has directed the military to expand a demilitarized buffer zone established in the northern Gaza region.

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Nissan Ratzlav-Katz, | updated: 11:04

Minister Mofaz, meeting Thursday evening with senior defense officials, issued the instruction to expand the no-man's land with the intention of distancing potentially threatening Arab traffic in Gaza from Israeli communities north of the region. Negev communities are now only hundreds of meters from Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled northern Gaza, exposed to enemy rockets, to infiltration and even to light-weapons fire.

IDF forces Friday morning instructed residents of Netiv Ha'asarah, next to the PA border in the south, to remain indoors in the morning until noon, when soldiers found one of two Arabs from the Gaza region who had infiltrated into the area. He was found to be unarmed and was looking for work. Residents were then allowed to leave their houses but were told to exercise caution while soldiers continued to search for the second man, who was also assumed to be unarmed.

Security officials further agreed that Israel will be expanding coordination with the Egyptian and PA forces in Gaza, demanding of the Arab side to "calm the situation" there. As for the now-porous border area between Egypt and Gaza, with local Arabs creating new "unofficial crossings" at will, Defense Minister Mofaz said that he will make it clear to the Egyptians and the PA that the situation cannot continue, "not even for a single day."

The Israeli cabinet had relied upon Egypt to block any attempts at smuggling weapons into Gaza. Defense officials told Minister Mofaz that, in their estimation, the uncontrolled border crossings between Egypt and Gaza have brought in more light weapons, but nothing that "threatens the balance" with the terrorists, such as anti-aircraft missiles or Katyusha rockets. Black market prices for weapons and ammunition in Gaza have dropped by up to 80 percent the past week.

Either confirming or playing on security concerns expressed in recent days by Israeli sources regarding the open border between Gaza and Egypt, a Hamas leader has said that Al-Qaeda terrorists are now operating in PA-controlled areas. Speaking with an Italian newspaper, Corriere de La Sierra, Mahmoud A-Zahar, regional head of Hamas, claimed this week that several Al-Qaeda terrorists have already crossed into Gaza.

In light of expected increased threats from terrorist organizations in northern Samaria, as well, the IDF is now working to fortify the area. This involves making security improvements in the remaining communities and along local roadways. The former towns of Homesh, Sa-Nur, Kadim and Ganim - dismantled under the Disengagement Plan - remain "closed military zones", as do the roads in the immediate area, placing them off-limits to Israelis.