Israel bisects the Gaza Strip, rejects reoccupation possibility

Israeli government said Sunday it does not intend to reoccupy the Gaza Strip as its troops have bisected the Hamas enclave, cutting off the north from the rest of the strip. (UPDATED)

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Israel does not intend to reoccupy the Gaza Strip with its current ground offensive against the enclave's Hamas rulers, government secretary Ovid Yehezkel said as he briefed reporters after a cabinet meeting.


"Israel has no intention to return to occupy the Gaza Strip," he was quoted by AFP as saying. "The operation is aimed solely to achieve the goals set forth by the cabinet."


"The operation might last a long time. We may still be facing hard days," he said. "We will reach a calm only if all of Israel’s demands are fulfilled," he added.


He said the Jewish state was holding talks on striking a ceasefire via different channels with "leaders from the U.S., the EU, and moderate Arab states including the PA (Palestinian Authority) under (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas."


"It is clear that any arrangement Israel will accept will have to include a complete halt to rocket fire, an end to Hamas’s rearmament and a normal life for the citizens of the south."

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Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip in 2005.


There are signs that Hamas has softened their stance towards the conditions of a cease fire, Shin Beth security service chief, Yuval Diskin, was quoted by Israel's Haaretz Daily as telling after the cabinet meeting.


"The organization (Hamas) took a serious blow, we killed hundreds of terrorists and damaged their ability to build weaponry," Haaretz quoted Head of IDF Military Intelligence, General Amos Yadlin, as addressing the meeting.


Israeli troops have bisected Gaza, cutting off the north - including Gaza City - from the rest of the strip. According to Palestinian reports, the split runs from the Karni crossing in central Gaza to the sea.
Israeli shells killed at least five Palestinian civilians and wounded 40 others when they exploded in Gaza City's main shopping area, Sunday's reports said.
Infantry units backed by tanks had taken control of Salaheddine Road north and south of Gaza City -- the territory’s main thoroughfare that stretches along the length of the enclave, the witnesses told AFP.
Explosions rocked the area as the advancing troops exchanged fire with Hamas fighters, who shot off mortar rounds and detonated roadside bombs, they said.
Israeli forces were also seen detaining people, the witnesses said.
The heaviest fighting was reported to be taking place around Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya in the north.


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday the Gaza offensive had been "unavoidable" but Israel would not open a new front in the north, a veiled reference to tensions with the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.



Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants battled in Gaza on Sunday after Israeli troops and tanks invaded the coastal enclave in the most serious fighting in the conflict in decades.

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The Israeli army confirmed on Sunday that one of its soldiers had been killed in clashes with Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip.


"I can confirm that an IDF soldier was killed this morning by a mortar shell in the area of Beit Lahiya," an army spokeswoman told AFP.


The death was first reported by the Al-Jazeera news channel.


More than 30 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in Gaza on the first day of the Jewish state’s ground offensive in the Hamas-run enclave as Israeli shells slammed into houses and Gaza's main shopping district, witnesses and Palestinian medical sources said.

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Thirty Israeli soldiers have been wounded, Israel said.


At least 12 of the missiles were longer-range Grad rockets, which fell near Ashdod, and the towns of Ofaqim and Netivot which are both east of Gaza, the Israeli army said.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired more than 500 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel since the beginning of the Jewish states massive offensive on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on December 27, killing four people and wounding several dozen others, according to Israeli officials.

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Since the start of "Operation Cast Lead" more than 485 Palestinians have been killed, including 80 children, and more than 2,500 wounded in Gaza, according to Gaza medics.


Hamas said Sunday it captured two Israeli soldiers during fighting in the Gaza Strip on Sunday and was holding them hostage.
The capture of Israeli soldiers by Hamas could have a large impact on public support in Israel for the Gaza offensive, in which 470 Palestinians have been killed since Dec. 27.
But the Israeli army said it had no knowledge of any of its soldiers falling into Hamas's hands. 

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