CBNNews.com - The latest Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counter-terror operations in Gaza concluded its first stage over the weekend.
The first stage of the operation, dubbed "Warm Winter," centered on the Arab cities of Sajaiya and Jabalya, where Kassam rocket-launching pads were destroyed, IDF officials announced Saturday.
The second stage will consist of urban search-and-destroy missions to uncover weapons caches.
As many as 70 Palestinians were killed in heavy fighting with IDF forces. Most of the fatalities were Hamas gunmen, though several Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees operatives were also killed.
Palestinian sources reported 12 civilian casualties, including three women, eight children and two unarmed men. Some 60 Palestinians were injured during the operations.
Meanwhile, at least 12 rockets landed in Ashkelon and its environs Saturday. One rocket hit a home, sending several residents into shock.
Shrapnel from a Katyusha rocket injured two children and one adult, who were evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center. Several people were treated for shock.
Later in the day, three people were injured by shrapnel from a rocket that landed at the coastal city's marina. Another rocket scored a direct hit on a parked car, setting it on fire, but no one was injured.
"The military operation against all ranks responsible for Kassams will continue," said an Israeli security official Sunday. "The gloves are off and we have no intention of sitting on the sidelines while rockets are being fired," he said.
Speaking on Army Radio, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Israel had no other options in light of the daily rocket barrages on southern Israel.
"We will use all our strength in every way we deem appropriate, whether in air strikes or on the ground," Vilnai said.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called the Gaza operations "genocide."
"The response to these rockets can't be that harsh and heinous," Abbas said. "it is nowadays described as a 'Holocaust,'" he said.
In Damascus, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal used the same terminology, but blamed Abbas.
"I accuse the president of the Palestinian Authority of providing coverage of this 'Holocaust' in Gaza," he stated, saying that the PA's condemnation of rocket fire is partially behind the IDF operation.
IDF spokeswoman Major Avital Leibovich said Hamas is responsible for the high civilian casualty toll because of its use of private homes for rocket manufacturing labs and weapons storage.
"We are not targeting homes, and we have no intentions of targeting uninvolved civilians," the major said, "but we will target launchers, Hamas terrorists and bunkers," she said.
Sources: YNet news service, israel insider