Israeli Forces Ready for Ground Incursion

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - On day six of Operation Cast Lead, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) continues honing its preparations for a major ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak received permission to call up nearly 10,000 reserve soldiers for the operation, which could begin anytime after Friday morning, according to a Channel 2 report.

At Wednesday's Security Cabinet meeting, the decision was made to continue the operation until the IDF meets its goals, effectively ending seven years of Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israeli communities.

Overnight Wednesday, Israel Air Force (IAF) fighter pilots struck some 20 Hamas sites in the Strip, including the Municipal Legislative and Justice Ministry buildings.

IAF crews destroyed five more smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor -- the narrow strip of land connecting Gaza with the Egyptian Sinai -- and also targeted a Hamas stronghold in the city of Rafah on the border with Egypt.

A weapons factory, which concealed a smuggling tunnel, was destroyed, along with a building used by the coastguard.

Palestinian sources said three people were killed in Rafah.

Overnight, the Israeli navy destroyed an unspecified number of rocket launching pads.

Early Thursday morning, Palestinians resumed rocket attacks, after firing more than 70 rockets on western Negev communities Wednesday.

By midday, terrorists fired 14 Kassam and Katyusha rockets at Israel.

One Katyusha hit an eight-story apartment building in Ashdod, starting a fire. Several residents were treated for shock.

Three Grad-type rockets landed near Beersheba, 10 hit the Eshkol and Sdot Negev regional councils, one damaging a community building, and a Kassam landed near Ofakim.

Hamas Chief Declares Victory

Speaking from an undisclosed location in the Strip, a defiant Ismail Haniyeh declared that Hamas would be victorious.

"We tell the Palestinian people in Gaza and everywhere that you will inevitably win," Haniyeh said.

"Victory is near, Allah willing, and it is closer than people think," he said.

In Lebanon, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, spiritual leader of the Hezbollah terror group, said the 1.5 million Gaza residents "embracing the 'resistance" are keeping Israeli ground troops from entering the Strip.

IDF: We're Ready to Fight

IDF officials said its forces are ready to face an estimated 15,000 Hamas fighters awaiting them in Gaza.

"Hamas has indeed prepared for this, but so did we," one senior IDF officer told YNet news. "We're ready," he said.

Over the past few years, Hamas has been building its fighting forces, sending many operatives to Iran and Syria for training.

Since Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, Hamas has smuggled huge quantities of explosives, weaponry, anti-tank missiles, and the like into Gaza.

Cease-Fire 'Helpful'

The six-month temporary cease-fire with Israel, which began June 19, gave Hamas additional opportunity to prepare for war with Israel.

Roadside bombs and powerful explosive devices concealed in pits dug under many of the roads are meant to destroy tanks and armored vehicles.

"During the confrontation, Hamas will try to operate in an orderly manner and use many types of arms, such as explosive devices, snipers and cells, to hit our forces," an IDF officer said.

"We are prepared in terms of protective equipment, and we've also engaged in training exercises to address these threats," he said.

For now, IDF Armored, Engineering and Artillery Corps troops await orders to enter the Gaza and confront the enemy.

Sources: YNet news, Haaretz, The Jerusalem Post

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Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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