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Israel’s chief of staff rebuffs military’s Gaza invasion plan

April 24, 2006

TEL AVIV — Israel’s military brass appears divided over whether to capture parts of the Gaza Strip.

Military sources said Southern Command has drafted plans to reoccupy the northern Gaza Strip and create a buffer zone to stop Palestinian missile strikes against Israel. But the sources said the plan has been opposed by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

Halutz has joined the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in opposing an invasion of the Gaza Strip, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Halutz asserted than an Israeli invasion would spark international opposition that could undermine U.S. support for the Jewish state.

“We may need to enter the Gaza Strip for short or long periods if this escalation continues,” Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant said.

[On Saturday, Fatah and Hamas clashed in the worst violence between the two Palestinian rivals in 2006. At least 20 people were injured as each side accused the other of preparing for civil war.]

Gallant and his officers have pressed the General Staff and government for a rapid takeover of about 40-square kilometers of the northern Gaza Strip, where most of Palestinian missile launches have take place. They have argued that artillery strikes against suspected Palestinian missile launch sites have been ineffective.

“It could be anything from a partial occupation of the Gaza Strip to a full occupation,” Gallant told the Israeli daily Maariv on April 21.

Units from Southern Command as well as special operations forces have been training for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the sources said. They said Southern Command has warned of an escalation of Palestinian missile strikes and the use of the Soviet-origin Katyusha rocket, or Grad, with a range of 20 kilometers.

On April 21, Islamic Jihad announced the firing of a Grad rocket into Israel. This was the second time in less than a month that Jihad announced the firing of the Grad. Israel did not confirm the Jihad announcement.

So far, almost all of the attacks have used the Kassam-class missile, with a range of about 12 kilometers. The military said 300 Kassam missiles were fired toward Israel since Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections on Jan. 25, a rate of more than three times of that in late 2005.

The military plans to capture northern Gaza have been reviewed and approved by Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the sources said. But they said the plans have been rejected by the government.

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