Widening its five-day campaign against Palestinian militants, Israel for the first time fired artillery shells into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and shut down 15 West Bank offices suspected of distributing money to families of bombers from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups.Israel is also carrying out the PR war properly: Stating unequivocally that they reserve the right to do as they see fit; no form of action is yet ruled out; and they will not cave to pressure asking them to let up, especially given the circumstances. They are treating any actions by Hamas as the closest thing to war.
Israeli aircraft also fired missiles at several Gaza targets, knocking out power in Gaza City for most of the night, damaging several buildings and destroying an overpass, but there were no injuries. In the West Bank, Israel rounded up 24 suspected militants, bringing the number of people arrested since the weekend to more than 400.
A senior Israeli army commander did not rule out shelling Gaza towns.
"We will warn the population, make sure that they leave the area, while we target the sources of rocket fire," said Maj. Gen. Israel Ziv, the army chief of operations.
Israel says the strong reaction is necessary to show that new rules are in place following its withdrawal from Gaza after a 38-year occupation and that attacks from the area will not be tolerated.They are also wisely ignoring any comments by Hamas leadership - whether promises to halt attacks or promises to strike back.
"Terrorism must be rooted out," Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Israel Radio on Wednesday.
Mofaz pledged Tuesday to step up pressure on the militants, saying a ground invasion into Gaza is possible as a last resort. He spoke while touring an Israeli artillery battery near Gaza.
"This battery ... is not meant to be decoration. It is operational, within range and it will respond against every firing of a Qassam in real time, and that is to deter," he said.
The Israeli strikes were triggered by weekend rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli border towns. Since then, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have announced they would halt attacks, but Israel said it would press ahead with the campaign, including targeted killings of militant leaders.
Hamas commentator Ghazi Hamad said that "Israel could weaken Hamas, but not destroy it." The group, which opposes the existence of Israel, has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks since violence resumed.Good.
Hamad said Hamas has a support network extending from East Asia through the Gulf to Europe, and that Israel would not be able to stop the flow of money and donations.
"Israel is monitoring, but it can't monitor every channel," he said, suggesting that some of the money is brought in through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.
The military activity came after various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the ruling Fatah movement, renewed their commitment to a cease-fire, although they also said they reserve the right to retaliate for perceived Israeli truce violations.
Israeli army spokeswoman Capt. Yael Hartmann called the militants' pledges "meaningless" and said the open-ended military operation would continue.
"The ... operations to destroy the infrastructure are not based on Hamas' declarations," she said. "As of now, we're continuing with our operational plans."
Technorati tags: Israel, Hamas, Terrorism.