Israel on Sunday gave the residents of northern Gaza several hours to evacuate the area ahead of an expected escalation of the Jewish state’s military response to ongoing missile and rocket fire that has effectively placed five million Israelis under siege.
The goal of Israel’s telephone, leaflet and other media messages was to as much as possible avoid civilian casualties as it seeks to deal Hamas the kind of blow that will deter future flare-ups.
But Hamas was unwilling to lose its most prized weapon in the battle against Israel: human shields. The group ordered the thousands of Palestinians who had already left the area to return to their homes immediately.
“To all of our people evacuating their homes - return immediately and do not leave your houses,” read a statement issued by the Hamas Interior Ministry. “Heeding Israel’s warnings only aids [Israel] in achieving its agenda…”
Late last week, the Hamas Interior Ministry more clearly explained that heeding the Israeli warnings could be seen as “cooperation” with the enemy. Reading between the lines, those who do flee their homes when Israel gives them the chance to do so could be labeled as traitors and therefore face a fate far worse than Israeli bombs.
By mid-afternoon, Israel had yet to carry through on its threat of a “significant” attack on Hamas in northern Gaza, possibly due to the failure or inability of the local residents to clear the area.
However, during the predawn hours on Sunday a team of Israeli naval commandoes did infiltrate Gaza and engage terrorist forces there.
The Israeli troops landed just north of Gaza City, where they were tasked with destroying a cache of long-range missiles and a launch site used to fire them at Israeli cities.
The Israelis were met by Hamas gunmen, three of whom were killed in the ensuing battle. Four of the Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded, and all returned home safely after accomplishing their mission.