Israeli Ground Forces Enter Gaza Strip

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - For the second time in as many days, a small force of Israeli soldiers re-entered the Gaza Strip. The forays mark the first time Israeli ground forces have re-entered the area since Israel completed its evacuation of settlements and troops in mid-September's disengagement.

The first incursion on Thursday followed an infiltration attempt by two heavily armed Palestinians on Wednesday evening -- just as Israelis beginning their Passover Seders. Israeli forces shot and killed the terrorists, who were armed with grenades and automatic weapons.

Israeli forces received information that the two might have planted explosive devices along the inside of the fence, so troops went to inspect the area, military sources said. A second sweep was in progress on Friday at midday.

Following the Hamas election victory in Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January, Israel severed ties with the P.A. and cut all security coordination with P.A. security forces. That puts the burden back on Israel, military sources said.

Following Israel's pullout from Gaza, terrorists increasingly have targeted Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip with rocket fire. Israel's counter-attacks to stop the rockets have become progressively more invasive.

Some experts say the only way to stop the rocket fire, which has come dangerously close to industrial sites and the Ashkelon power plant, is by re-occupying the Gaza Strip in a full-scale ground operation.

Initially, the Israeli artillery took up positions around the strip to fire at rocket launching sites. The air force also has carried out a number of targeted killings since then.

Several months ago, Israel established a "no-go" buffer zone in the northern Gaza Strip, warning Palestinians to stay out of the area or risk being shot.

In December, former Reserve Col. Shuki Rynski, who once served as deputy commander of the Gaza Strip division, told Cybercast News Service that it was only a matter of time before Israeli ground troops would have to re-enter the Gaza Strip if Israel wanted to stop the rocket attacks.

Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Harel, chief of the army's Planning Directorate was quoted in an interview in the Jerusalem Post on Friday as saying that Israel might re-enter Gaza.

"We will continue escalating our actions...and it is possible that eventually we will launch a ground operation in Gaza," Harel was quoted as saying.

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