Jerusalem – On Friday, a day in which Arab terrorist organizations fired no less than 34 Kassam missiles at Sderot and other residential areas around the Gaza Strip, along with six Grad rockets at Ashkelon, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to order the activation of the Red Color warning siren system in Ashkelon.

In response to the increase of missile attacks from Gaza, the Israeli army has launched an operation in Gaza Strip, code named Operation Hot Winter, which entered its second day yesterday.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed on Saturday in the first day of Operation Hot Winter, when Israeli Defense Force (IDF) infantry, tanks and Engineering Corps troops pushed into the outskirts of the Jabalya refugee camp before dawn on Saturday, whereupon the clashes began.

Just 10 days ago, the Givati Brigade took up positions along the Gaza border after having undergone training in the north and operational activity in Judea and Samaria. On Saturday before dawn, the Shaked battalion and the patrol battalion of the Givati Brigade, along with the Ninth battalion from the Armored Corps and Engineering Corps troops entered the neighborhood and surprised the Palestinians. The armed men, who responded to the muezzin’s call to come out and fight, fired anti-tank rockets, sniper fire and light weaponry at the troops. IDF forces seized control of a number of houses in the area, from which they directed the battle.

A military source said that the IDF troops found themselves facing an orderly military organization, not guerrillas. “This is complex and difficult warfare in a dense area with a lot of terrorists, high friction and built-up neighborhoods. It is very hard to identify the source of gunfire.”

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) lent support to the ground troops and to attack other targets further in the Gaza Strip, such as a police stationhouse in Rafah and an adjacent mosque under construction.

Yesterday, the IAF bombed Hamas terror leader Ismail Haniyeh’s office, causing it to collapse. Haniyeh was not present at the time of the bombing.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called upon Israel to refrain from using excessive force and harming civilians. Ban did call upon the Arabs to cease firing rockets at Israel.

On Saturday, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session on the situation in Gaza at the request of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. Abbas, often referred to by President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as Israel’s peace partner, said: “What is happening now in Gaza is more than a Holocaust.”

In that context, the Palestinian observer at the U.N., Riyad Mansour, accused Israel of war crimes. The deputy head of the Israeli delegation placed the responsibility for the situation upon Hamas and its supporters, Syria and Iran.

At the end of their five-hour emergency meeting, the Security Council condemned Israel and the Palestinians and demanded that both sides cease from all violence without delay.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke on Saturday night with her U.S. counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, and updated her on what is happening in the Gaza Strip. Ms. Rice will come to the region this week and will attempt to salvage the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Saeb Erekat, responsible for PLO negotiations, said that peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been “buried in the dust” by the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Senior Official: Entire Hamas Leadership In The Crosshairs

The entire Hamas leadership is in Israel’s crosshairs, said a high-ranking political source on Saturday. With that having been said, Mr. Olmert has instructed the security establishment to maintain the parameters currently in place in the IDF operation in the northern Gaza Strip at least until the end of the week.

Mr. Olmert, who returned on Friday to Israel from his state visit to Japan, has been engaged in an endless series of security consultations with senior security establishment officials, first and foremost Mr. Barak.

The Israeli security cabinet is expected to convene to discuss the issue of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. One senior minister said, “They informed the security cabinet ministers that it was going to be a relatively short meeting, about an hour long. So that at least at this point we’re talking about a meeting for briefing purposes and not for decision-making.”

Nobody in the IDF has any illusions: The operation will not stop the firing at Sderot completely, nor can it have any effect on the firing at Ashkelon, which at this stage depends solely on Hamas’ decisions. This firing is taking place far from the arena of the operation in any case, in the region of el-Atatra in the western Gaza Strip, 17 kilometers away from southern Ashkelon. Besides, army officials know that Hamas has rockets that are capable of reaching even beyond Ashkelon.

Meanwhile, Israeli security officials report that Hamas has been using a new “Grad” rocket whose warhead has a larger diameter than before.

A senior Israeli parliamentarian, Israeli Member of Knesset Dr. Yuval Steinitz, accused Egypt of firing the Grad rockets at Israel.

“The rockets that are striking Ashkelon arrived in Gaza courtesy of Cairo,” he said.

Abu Ala to Livni: All Talks Suspended

Ms. Livni, who heads the Israeli negotiating team, informed the Palestinians on Saturday that their decision to suspend the talks because of the incidents in the south were a violation of the understandings that were achieved in Annapolis last November. Furthermore, the foreign minister said that the Palestinians’ decision to suspend the talks would have no impact on the IDF activity in the Gaza Strip.

Abu Ala, who heads the Palestinian negotiating team, spoke last night with Ms. Livni on the phone and informed her that a decision had been made to suspend all talks. No talks will be held either by professional teams or by the senior political echelon. The scheduled meeting between Ms. Livni and Abu Ala tomorrow was canceled.

Ms. Livni’s bureau issued the following statement: “Even if the Palestinians intend to suspend the talks, that cannot influence the actions Israel will take in Gaza and in other places in order to defend its citizens.”

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said: “The decision at Annapolis was that the talks would continue despite terrorism and IDF activity.”

David Bedein can be reached at Media@actcom.co.il. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com

©The Bulletin 2008

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David Bedein is an MSW community organizer and an investigative journalist.   In 1987, Bedein established the Israel Resource News Agency at Beit Agron to accompany foreign journalists in their coverage of Israel, to balance the media lobbies established by the PLO and their allies.   Mr. Bedein has reported for news outlets such as CNN Radio, Makor Rishon, Philadelphia Inquirer, Los Angeles Times, BBC and The Jerusalem Post, For four years, Mr. Bedein acted as the Middle East correspondent for The Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. Bedein has covered breaking Middle East negotiations in Oslo, Ottawa, Shepherdstown, The Wye Plantation, Annapolis, Geneva, Nicosia, Washington, D.C., London, Bonn, and Vienna. Bedein has overseen investigative studies of the Palestinian Authority, the Expulsion Process from Gush Katif and Samaria, The Peres Center for Peace, Peace Now, The International Center for Economic Cooperation of Yossi Beilin, the ISM, Adalah, and the New Israel Fund.   Since 2005, Bedein has also served as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research.   A focus of the center's investigations is The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). In that context, Bedein authored Roadblock to Peace: How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict - UNRWA Policies Reconsidered, which caps Bedein's 28 years of investigations of UNRWA. The Center for Near East Policy Research has been instrumental in reaching elected officials, decision makers and journalists, commissioning studies, reports, news stories and films. In 2009, the center began decided to produce short movies, in addition to monographs, to film every aspect of UNRWA education in a clear and cogent fashion.   The center has so far produced seven short documentary pieces n UNRWA which have received international acclaim and recognition, showing how which UNRWA promotes anti-Semitism and incitement to violence in their education'   In sum, Bedein has pioneered The UNRWA Reform Initiative, a strategy which calls for donor nations to insist on reasonable reforms of UNRWA. Bedein and his team of experts provide timely briefings to members to legislative bodies world wide, bringing the results of his investigations to donor nations, while demanding reforms based on transparency, refugee resettlement and the demand that terrorists be removed from the UNRWA schools and UNRWA payroll.   Bedein's work can be found at: www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com and www.cfnepr.com. A new site,unrwa-monitor.com, will be launched very soon.