From THE JERUSALEM POST, Jan. 3, 2009, by Yaakov Katz:
At least 30 Hamas gunmen were reported killed as IDF troops swept into the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday night, encountering fierce resistance from Hamas forces entrenched in fortifications just over the border.
IDF sources said that the goal was to conquer territory in northern Gaza, including rocket launch sites. Soldiers from the Armored Corps, Engineering Corps, and Paratroopers, Givati, Golani brigades were participating in the fighting, with at least four brigades' worth of troops inside the Gaza Strip.
The sources said that a majority of the rockets fired into Beersheba and Ashdod were launched from the northern Gaza Strip.
..."We know there will be dangers, difficulties and victims... It must be said that the ground operation entails dangers to the lives of soldiers," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. "We must end the hostile actions against Israel... We will not abandon our citizens."
..."This will be a lengthy operation and there will likely be casualties on our side," a senior defense official said. "But our mission is to defend the home front. The purpose is to destroy Hamas's infrastructure and impair its ability to fire rockets into Israel."
...Terrorists using civilians as human shields would bear full responsibility for their fate, the army warned. "Anyone who hides a terrorist or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist," but "the residents of Gaza are not the target of the operation," the IDF Spokesman's Office said.
...The cabinet also approved the call-up of tens of thousands of reservists, mostly from combat units, but also from the Home Front Command. Already on Saturday night, several thousand emergency orders were issued.
Fighter jets, missile ships and artillery struck more than 40 Hamas targets on Saturday, including Hamas's central intelligence headquarters in Sha'ati, weapons storage facilities, training centers and leaders' homes.
...The IAF also hit the home of senior Hamas commander Abu Zacharia al-Jamal. A Hamas spokesman announced that Jamal was killed, which would make him the third senior operative of the group to be killed in three days. ...On Saturday morning, the air force struck the homes of two Hamas operatives used to store weapons and plan attacks. Hamas outposts, training camps and rocket launching sites also were targeted, the army said.
The IDF also struck the American International School in Beit Lahiya, the most prestigious educational institution in Gaza. The school is not connected to the US government, but teaches an American curriculum in English. The IDF said the campus was used to fire rockets and was a legitimate target.
...Earlier, the army dropped leaflets in downtown Gaza City ordering people off the streets. The warnings were followed by the air strikes.