Three Israeli soldiers killed, 24 injured in Gaza by friendly tank fire
Three Golani Brigade soldiers were killed and more than 20 injured, one critically, 3 seriously and the rest suffering moderate to light injuries, by a tank shell fired by mistake at a building in which Israeli troops sheltered in Tel al Shakef at the eastern edge of the Tofah district of Gaza City.
Lt. Col. Oren Cohen, commander of 13th Battalion, was among the seriously injured.
The incident Monday night, Jan. 5, caused Israel military’s highest casualty toll since its thrust into the Gaza Strip began Saturday night, Jan. 1. IDF battalion commander Colonel Avi Peled, who was slightly wounded, directed the evacuation of the wounded men to hospitals in Israel under heavy Hamas mortar fire, which was returned by Israeli helicopters and artillery.
debkafile‘s military sources add: The incident occurred as Israeli forces began advancing into the built-up sections of Gaza City. It was followed by heavy battles around the city’s northeastern districts as Hamas and Jihad Islami launched a counter-attack against the troops on the ground to accompany the arrival of a Hamas delegation’s arrival in Cairo for ceasefire negotiations.
Hamas also threatened to rocket Tel Aviv.
As a Hamas delegation landed in Cairo from Damascus, Monday night Jan. 5, the Hamas and Jihad Islami units which took refuge in Gaza City’s northern districts the day before launched this counter-offensive against the Israeli troops deployed at the northeastern edge of the city, taking advantage of Israel’s friendly fire incident.
debkafile‘s military sources report a heavy exchange of fire ensued, lasting for more than an hour before Israeli artillery and helicopter gunships drove the Palestinians back inside the town.
Hamas hit back at the Israeli troops fighting in Gaza since Saturday night, Jan. 1, in order to negotiate a ceasefire in Cairo from a position of strength.
Imad al-Alami, Hamas’ senior operations officer and its most important military figure, was sent to Cairo. To further show they were not cowed, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza threatened to bring out its long-range rockets and launch them against Rehovot, Rishon Lezion and Tel Aviv, key cities of Israel’s heartland, if the Israeli offensive persisted.
With this spreading menace in mind, the Homeland Command ordered warning sirens tested in areas north of the currently targeted stretch of country – almost as far as Jerusalem.
During the day, Hamas battled Israeli troops manning the Netzarim line which cuts the Gaza Strip in two. Hamas reported 100 killed in the fighting. Israel took 80 terrorists prisoner.
Behind the bravado, Hamas is casting about for ways to halt the Israeli military offensive, which is why it finally bowed to Egyptian pressure to discuss a ceasefire after repeated refusals.
This does not mean that the way to a ceasefire will be quick or easy. The Palestinian extremists believe they have two weeks to play with for bettering terms and are counting on gaining three advantages:
1. IDF will hold back from sending troops deep inside build-up areas of Gaza City and the surrounding refugee camps.
2. By dragging the bargaining up until the Jan. 20, Barack Obama will replace George W. Bush in the White House. Hamas is counting on him being tougher on Israel than his predecessor. Hamas expects him to summon a UN Security Council resolution ordering both sides to accept an immediate unconditional ceasefire. Hamas will then be absolved from accepting Egypt’s terms. debkafile‘s Washington sources say that this expectation is unrealistic.
3. International pressure on Israel to halt hostilities is expected to build up following French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s arrival in Jerusalem Monday night, when he again urged Israel for the second time in two weeks to accept a “humanitarian ceasefire.”
debkafile‘s Jerusalem sources disclose that Israeli leaders rebuffed him on an immediate ceasefire, but left open the possibility of a corridor out of Gaza for injured Palestinians.