Israeli police and security forces have been on extremely high alert since early Wednesday for fear of retaliatory terror attacks following the incident in Gaza where 18 civilians were killed after a stray IDF artillery shell hit a home in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.
According to police sources, there are currently 80 general alerts for attacks; out of them 15 are pinpointed alerts. The alerts originate mostly from the northern West Bank and Gaza, and include alerts for suicide bombings, shootings, rocket launches, and kidnappings.
At the same time, both offices of Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Peretz have published messages of regret for the death of the Palestinian civilians in Beit Hanoun. A similar message was also given to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Olmert and Peretz offered humanitarian assistance and urgent medical treatment for the injured. Peretz ordered to immediately open the Rafah crossing so wounded could be transferred into Egypt. Israel has also agreed to receive a few wounded Palestinians to be treated in Israeli hospitals. In addition an order was given to allow medical supplies to enter Gaza.
Defense Minister Peretz ordered an immediate investigation into the incident and ordered to stop the artillery barrage into Gaza until the investigation is complete.
Other than the potential security damage, political officials in Jerusalem say there is no doubt that Israel had suffered a major political and diplomatic blow because of the incident and had received severe condemnations from all over the world. On the other hand, the sources say that it could have been worse, since the Beit Hanoun incident was pushed aside mainly because the news was mostly dominated by the US elections, the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, and terror attacks in Iraq and Sri Lanka.
In any case, the Israeli diplomatic echelon worked overtime on Wednesday to minimize the damage. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke with several foreign ministers including the German, the Norwegian, and others. The Defense Ministry held security briefings for foreign envoys stationed in Israel and showed them the big picture, especially when some of them were unaware of the real information. The message Israel sent was that this is a part of a war against Kassams, and once the Kassams cease, the IDF will stop fighting as well.
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