JAFFA – Amid Israel's ongoing ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas terrorist group has been drawing Israeli forces into populated civilian areas, shooting at Jewish fighters from occupied civilian homes while women and children were inside, an Israel Defense Forces commander fighting in Gaza told WND.
"Hamas terror operatives shooting at us took up positions inside civilian homes while the civilians were still inside," said the commander, who was speaking from the outskirts of an IDF operation in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.
"The aim is to draw us into killing civilians to bring about international pressure to end our operation," the commander said, speaking on condition his name be withheld due to Israeli military restrictions on media interviews by fighting forces.
The commander said in one case today, four Hamas snipers shot at Israeli forces about from the open window of a home where women can be clearly seen in the background.
Israel this weekend launched a mid-sized ground and air assault on Hamas positions in Gaza following massive rocket bombardments of Jewish cities by Palestinian terrorists.
In a major escalation over the past few days, Hamas has been firing long range Grad rockets at the strategic port city of Ashkelon, which is home to about 125,000 Israelis. Ashkelon houses a major electrical plant that powers most of the Gaza Strip.
Grad rockets are longer-range Soviet-style projectiles similar to the Katyusha rocket, which the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group successfully used in 2006 to barrage northern Israel. The Grad travels farther and has a larger payload than the Qassam rocket, which can travel about five miles and is the usual rocket of choice for Palestinians.
At least 140 rockets, mostly Qassams, targeted the Israeli city of Sderot the past four days, bombarding the working-class city of about 25,000 people located nearly three miles from the Gaza border. One man was killed and dozens injured last week. Thousands of rockets have been regularly launched at Sderot since Israel retreated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
In addition to rockets at Sderot, dozens of Grads struck Ashkelon the past few days, including at least three yesterday, reportedly wounding one woman who had used her body to protect her children during an incoming rocket onslaught.
In response to the rocket attacks, the Israel Air Force has been targeting Hamas positions in Gaza, carrying out numerous air strikes against what Israel says are rocket crews, explosives assembly plants, and Hamas headquarters used in rocket storage and production.
In an apparent statement Hamas leaders are not immune from Israeli attack, the IAF today bombed the office of former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. According to security officials, Haniyeh has been in hiding for several weeks, fearing assassination. A security station outside his home had been targeted on Friday.
Alongside air strikes, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved a limited ground operation in Gaza focusing mainly on the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, which houses a Hamas military and rocket infrastructure. The IDF this weekend took up key positions in Jabaliya, located about 1 mile into Gaza, conducting extensive searches for Hamas terrorists.
Israel's entire Gaza ground incursion, which involves hundreds of ground troops and dozens of tanks, is limited to only about one mile inside Gaza. The operation is not expected to greatly dent Hamas' rocket firing capabilities since most rocket attacks are launched from at least 2 miles in the Gaza Strip.
At least 90 Palestinians were killed in military operations this weekend. Israeli officials said 80 of those killed were terrorists. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed during yesterday's ground operations.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak defended the Gaza operation as necessary to combat ongoing rocket attacks.
"We pulled out of Gaza, we tore Israelis from their homes, just for quiet in the communities in the Gaza envelope. These were painful concessions that we made for quiet, and Hamas has continued its fire without reason," said Barak.
"They are firing on innocent civilians and have left us no choice. We will operate with force to change the situation, and we will change it," Barak said.
Still, the international community slammed what many world leaders called "Israeli aggression" against Gazan Palestinians.
In an emergency United Nations session called today to discuss the Gaza violence, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon slammed Israel's Gaza fighting as a "disproportionate" use of force.
"While recognizing Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed an injured so many civilians, including children," Ban told the emergency session of the council.
"I call on Israel to cease such attacks," he said.
The European Union issued a statement urging Israel to halt activities it claimed endanger civilians saying they were contrary to international law.
Pope Benedict appealed for an end to the conflict in Gaza, calling on both Israelis and Palestinians to unconditionally halt the violence.
The U.S. for its part also urged "calm" on both sides and urged Israel to continue negotiating with PA Leader Abbas toward creating a Palestinian state.
"The violence needs to stop and the talks need to resume," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
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