JERUSALEM – Just one month after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated his country’s military forces from the Gaza Strip, officially ending Israel’s presence in the area, IDF troops are now deployed along the border preparing to reenter Gaza for a possible ground offensive that could take place within hours, WND has learned.

Critics of Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan had long warned the retreat would prompt an onslaught of terrorism requiring the Israeli Defense Forces to re-enter the territory.

Jewish residents along the Israeli border with Gaza tell WND ground troops backed by IDF tanks began amassing this morning and are currently on standby awaiting orders to enter the Gaza Strip. They say the army has warned Palestinian civilians to leave select northern Gaza areas routinely used by militants to fire rockets into nearby Israeli towns.

Senior IDF officials told WND Sharon and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz have been meeting the past few hours to decide whether to send the ground forces into Gaza. They say any IDF ground incursion, which could be ordered tonight, would be limited in scope and duration, likely focusing on and near Beit Hanun in northern Gaza.

“It will be in and out fast, a sweep of the area,” said a senior IDF official speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media on the matter.

Another IDF official, also speaking anonymously, said he doesn’t think Sharon will make the call to send in the ground forces.

“The fallout is too much diplomatically to re-enter Gaza,” said the official. “We don’t stand to gain enough from one isolated ground operation. Israel will look foolish having to go back into Gaza. The troops on the border may be for show, to warn the Palestinians what the next stage is if they continue their terrorism.”

The possible operation comes in response to yesterday’s suicide bombing in an open-air market in the coastal city of Hadera just north of Tel Aviv, killing five people and wounding more than two dozen others. Hadera has been a frequent target of bombings during the past five years.

Islamic Jihad took responsibility for the blast. WND reported today sources close to the Al Asqa Martyrs Brigades, the military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, said their group was also involved in the suicide attack.

Sharon and Mofaz reportedly met last night and decided upon a two-prong military response: a focus on the Islamic Jihad West Bank infrastructure and the targeting of Qassam launch sites in Gaza.

Already today the IDF fired rockets at two senior Islamic Jihad terrorists in northern Gaza, also reportedly killing four other Palestinians. Jihad pledged “harsh retaliation.”

Earlier in the day, Israeli troops fired at suspected Qassam rocket factories and launching sites in Gaza, imposed tight closures of West Bank towns and arrested several wanted Islamic Jihad terrorists.

The reports of ground troops now readying to cross into Gaza seem to actualize warnings repeatedly voiced by opponents of Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal plan prior to its completion last month.

Knesset Member Benny Elon previously told WND, “As soon as Israel gets out [from Gaza], the attacks will escalate and Israel will have two choices, either let the terrorists kill Israelis or send troops back into Gaza.”

Knesset Member Ayoob Kara, a member of Sharon’s Likud Party, told WND prior to the Gaza withdrawal: “Only Israel can guarantee the security of its citizens. The terrorists will see Israel’s withdrawal as a victory for terror. They will increase attacks, and it’s possible troops may have to go back in to stop the attacks.”

Knesset Member Effie Eitam told WND: “Israel’s withdrawal will be a strategic and military disaster. Afterwards, Israel won’t be inside Gaza to stop attacks and they may be forced with the decision of having to go back in.”

Related story:

Abbas-linked group involved in Hadera blast

Previous stories:

Hamas admits to plans for more kidnappings

Hamas study predicts rocket war on Israel

Schools close as rockets fly

Terror rockets fly from Gaza

Hamas launching rocket war after Gaza evacuation

Forecast in Israel: Raining rockets

Hamas fires rocket toward Israeli multitudes

Rockets hitting Jewish Gaza now more deadly

Barrage of rockets smash into Jewish Gaza

Gaza security chief: Israel allowing attacks on Jews

Israel allowing attacks on Jews?

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