Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz expressed his view of the strategic imperative of IDF control over the southern border sector during his appearance before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday. However, he stressed, "no decision has been made" on the matter. In the pre-dawn hours, before Halutz spoke to the Knesset committee, a military operation focused on the Philadelphi Route and the Gaza-Egypt border area came to a close.

According to the Chief of Staff's report to the legislators, in the last several days of IDF operations along the border area, soldiers uncovered more than 100 tunnels used by Palestinian Authority terrorists to smuggle guerrillas and weapons into the Gaza region from the Sinai peninsula. Halutz also confirmed previous reports that terrorists have succeeded in smuggling anti-tank missiles into the area.

On Sunday, retired IDF Southern Command chief Major General Yomtov Samiya told IDF Radio that Hamas has imported tons of explosives and massive amounts of weapons and ammunition into Gaza by way of Egypt. He added that, in order to be effective, the IDF must control an area including up to 400 meters from the Philadelphi Route itself.

IDF troops returned to the Philadelphi Route, including the border city of Rafiach, a little over one year after it was abandoned by Israel as part of Ariel Sharon's Gaza-Samaria Disengagement Plan. The corridor has become the site of an unknown number of tunnels used for smuggling weapons, drugs and sex-workers from Egypt to Gaza. Although an agreement with Cairo at the time of the withdrawal gave Egyptian soldiers and police jurisdiction over the border area, IDF officers have admitted that Egypt has not made a serious effort to control terrorist smuggling.

At Tuesday's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced that the IDF is withdrawing from the Philadelphi area temporarily, but will return in a few days. However, he said that the IDF is not preparing to carry out a full invasion of Gaza and that such plans would not be made as a result of public pressure.

Alon Davidi, a neighbor of Peretz's in the rocket-battered development town of Sderot, heads the Struggle for Security for Sderot effort and responded harshly to the defense minister's declaration.

"The residents of Sderot are stunned and disappointed by the declaration of their abandonment by Defense Minister Peretz," Davidi said. "Our group will strengthen its protests against the government until a decision is made on a large-scale military operation in Gaza that will stop the firing of Kassam rockets. Such steps include establishing a protest tent in front of Peretz's Sderot home."