Soldier praying before moving into Gaza
Soldier praying before moving into Gaza IDF Photo

Ground troops moved into Gaza Saturday night for the first time since last February and returned to the sites of former Jewish homes in northern Gaza, an area the government abandoned three years ago, in the framework of the Disengagement Plan, with the promise that the western Negev would be free of rocket and mortar attacks.

Artillery fire from the ground and from Naval boats rained on terrorist targets before tanks roared in, and at least 30 terrorists were killed. Soldiers did not meet any massive resistance. Hamas claimed that it killed several Israeli soldiers, but there has been no other report of IDF casualties.

The soldiers, from Givati, tank, Golani and engineer units, are backed by intelligence, Air Force, artillery and Naval forces. The Navy has enforced a blockade of 20 nautical miles from the Gaza Coast because of the presence of terrorists in the area.

The area is a closed military zone to journalists. The IDF has stated that the objective of the latest maneuver in the Cast Lead counterterrorist operation is to eliminate rocket launchers that have caused deaths and serious injuries, heavy damage and widespread panic in cities as far north as Ashdod and Yavne.

The troops entered less than 24 hours after outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with military officials. The Security Cabinet met Friday night in emergency session and gave the green light for the ground operation.

The IDF also issued thousands of call-up orders to reservists, mostly from combat units.

Israeli Air Force planes dropped thousands of leaflets warning Gaza residents not to cooperate with terrorists by using phones to report on IDF operations.

Terrorists aimed their rockets closer to Gaza Saturday night, attacking Sderot and the Eshkol region as well as the Yavne area. There were no serious injuries and most of the missiles landed in open areas.