How Israel, Hamas define victory in Gaza
Israel has hit at hundreds of targets across Gaza but has not seriously damaged Hamas's fighting force, which continued to fire rockets on southern Israel on Sunday.
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"The ground action that we began last night, as part of the overall operation, is designed to establish our aspiration to change the security reality in the south," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli cabinet, according to a statement. "It cannot be that the home front will be subject to attack and a daring, strong and well-trained military does not defend it."Skip to next paragraph
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Though Israel has struck at hundreds of targets across the Gaza Strip, it has yet to seriously injure Hamas's fighting force, the Izz ed-Din al Qassam Brigades.
"The main risk for Israel is that it will drag out into a full occupation of the Gaza Strip," says Shlomo Brom, the former head of the army's planning branch. "If we will have very few casualties in this operation, it may lead some to say why don't we topple Hamas?"
Despite the offensive, Palestinian militants were able to fire about 30 rockets into southern Israel Sunday, according to the Israeli army. Since the offensive began, militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, killing three civilians. Israel said its air force hit 15 targets across Gaza on Sunday.
The Qassam wing predicted that the Israeli soldiers would fall prey to the "trap" laid by the Islamist militants.
"The Zionist enemy will be surprised and will regret carrying out such an operation at such a heavy price," the organization said in a statement Saturday. "Our militants are waiting patiently to confront the soldiers face to face."
The start of the ground operation comes on the eve of stepped-up international efforts to prod a cease-fire. Representing the European Union's presidency, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, is planning to visit Israel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy is scheduled to arrive Monday.
Much of Israel's firepower has been focused on destroying Gaza tunnels that are a channel for missiles and consumer goods into the strip. Shutting down the free flow of weapons trade over the border figures as one of the major goals of the operation, according to analysts. But it is far from certain who will enforce the closure of the tunnels when Israel leaves.
The nine mile-long Gaza-Egypt frontier has long been crisscrossed by a network of tunnels. The Gaza assault has included several air force sorties in which "bunker buster" bombs were dropped on the area, exploding underground and sending out shockwaves designed to collapse the secret passages. "The issue of rearming is fundamental. We want to prevent Hamas from being rearmed like Hezbollah was after the Lebanon war," a senior Israeli official said.
Palestinians in northern and eastern Gaza said that they can hear the sounds of the Israeli tanks and armored vehicle engines entering Gaza.
Kamel Kafarna, a resident of the northern Gaza village of Beit Hanoun, says Israeli forces are in the fields outside of the village, but haven't entered the residential area. His family of four is running low on flour and wheat, and has run out of cooking gas. But the engineering teacher says he hasn't left his house for three days for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
"It's crazy. The bullets and rockets are flying over our heads," says Mr. Kafarna, who was reached by phone. "Most of the civilians I believe were killed by mistake. And you don't know if you are going to be the next mistake."