Israel quits Gaza ahead of Rice visit; Hamas declares victory

Monday, March 03, 2008 |  by Staff Writer

Israel on Monday wrapped up an intense weekend incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip that aimed to curb escalating Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel.

Israeli forces killed more than 90 terrorists during the ground and air operations. Palestinian sources said a handful of civilians were also killed after being caught in the crossfire. Two Israeli soldiers were killed during the fighting and at six others were wounded.

Israeli government officials told Israel National News that the operation, dubbed "Hot Winter," was brought to a premature close in order to avoid giving the impression that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's upcoming visit had failed to advance the peace process.

However, when Rice arrives, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to tell her that Israel will not cease its military action against the Gaza terrorist infrastructure until the residents of southern Israel can live their lives free of the threat of daily rocket attacks.

Israeli army officials told Ynet that "Hot Winter" was only the first in a planned series of incursions that will be executed with increasing severity if the Gaza terrorists continue to attack Israel.

Hamas, meanwhile, declared victory over the withdrawing Israeli forces at a Gaza rally attended by thousands. Leaders of the ruling terror group noted that despite their losses, the Israeli operation had failed to achieve its goal - the cessation of rocket attacks against southern Israel.

Hamas and allied terror groups fired more than 40 locally-produced rockets and Iranian-supplied missiles at Israeli towns and villages on Sunday, lightly wounding three people and sending numerous others into severe shock.

In one of the attacks, a Katyusha missile of the type regularly employed by Lebanon's Hizballah terrorist militia scored a direct hit on a residential building in the Israeli port town of Ashkelon. The building was situated adjacent to an children's day care, prompting parents across town to frantically pull their children out of school.

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