Israel Expands Gaza Op Despite Pressure

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Despite international pressure calling for a cease-fire, the Israeli government ordered the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to expand Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip.

Over the weekend, the IAF (Israeli Air Force) dropped thousands of leaflets, explaining to the civilian population that the operation would intensify.

"The IDF will escalate the operation in the Gaza Strip," the flier read. "The IDF is not working against the people of Gaza but against the Hamas terrorists only. Stay safe by following our orders," it read.

On Sunday afternoon, the IAF destroyed 20 smuggling more tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor -- the narrow strip of land separating Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai.

Earlier, Hamas gunmen tried unsuccessfully to shoot down an Israeli plane using an anti-aircraft missile.

Overnight Saturday, the IAF targeted some 60 Hamas sites, including the home of military chief Ahmed Ja'abri, who is in hiding, and a mosque where a number of the anti-aircraft missiles were stored.

In northern Gaza, IDF troops and Hamas gunmen engaged in fierce battles.

"The forces continue to move forward, while reinforcing their hold on the ground," a senior IDF officer said.

"They are operating vis-à-vis the Hamas organization, which sealed off whole neighborhoods," he said, using civilians as human shields.

"Hamas is attempting every possible tactic against us, in psychological terms, as well," he said.

"We're also seeing cases of desertions and unauthorized leaves, while some terrorists are scared to undertake moves that would jeopardize them vis-à-vis IDF troops," he said.

On Saturday, the IDF killed Hamas rocket chief Amir Mansi, who maintained close ties with Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon.

According to military sources, Mansi's subordinates refused to leave their hiding places so he began firing mortar shells himself, which allowed the IDF to identify and kill him.

"We know of complete battalions that have just been erased," a senior officer said. "They are afraid to come out and fight. That's why Mansi went out to fire rockets on his own," he said.

At a joint press conference Sunday, Military Intelligence chief Major-General Amos Yadlin and Shin Bet (General Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin said it would be counterproductive to stop the operation before putting an end to the rocket fire and weapons smuggling.

"Hamas is crying stop. They are dying to respond to the blow they received and recover from their lack of operative successes in the field. On the other hand, they don't want to wave the white flag," Yadlin said.

"The damage to the Philadelphi Route was a blow to Hamas's lifeline," he said.

"Hamas still has the capabilities to cause damage, both in their war on the Israeli home front and in the fighting in Gaza," Yadlin said.

Diskin told reporters that Gaza residents are beginning to protest.

"There is clear evidence of Gaza residents refusing to have rocket launchers placed next to their homes," he said, and civilians are beginning to look critically at Hamas as "the cause of the tragedy in Gaza."

"Hamas is experiencing an existential threat. However, we're not deluding ourselves about Hamas's abilities to renew their former behavior," he said.

"And it's possible that they're saving up some of their capabilities for the end of the operation," Diskin added.

Regarding international pressure for a cease-fire, the Shin Bet chief said that "Recent weeks have shown a clear reduction in rocket fire, which is bearing fruit. But Hamas must understand that Israel will not accept a cancerous outgrowth in its backyard," he said.

Sources: YNet news, The Jerusalem Post

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Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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