JERUSALEM, Aug. 1 (JTA) — As world scrutiny focuses on Israel’s offensive in Lebanon, fierce fighting continues against Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. As in the North, where Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers and took them to Lebanon, Israel so far has failed to retrieve Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in a deadly June 25 raid by Gazan gunmen. But Israeli forces have hit the coastal territory hard during the operation, killing around 150 Palestinians, most of them armed. “There has been a significant tactical achievement in Gaza,” Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eisencott, chief of military operations, told reporters Sunday. Troops and tanks now hold positions in northern and southern Gaza, the former to stem cross-border rocket fire and the latter to prevent Shalit from being smuggled to neighboring Egypt. The tactics received a backhanded compliment this week, when Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ exiled leader in Damascus, confirmed in an Egyptian newspaper that the “prisoner of war” was still somewhere in Gaza. Hamas insists on trading Shalit for hundreds of Arab terrorists held in Israeli jails, perhaps as part of a broader prisoner swap involving Hezbollah. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled this out as extortion, preferring a combination of military assaults and diplomatic pressure involving foreign mediators. In Gaza, there also is an effort to prevent a repeat of Shalit’s abduction, which took place after a team of terrorists tunneled under the border and attacked an Israeli position from behind, killing two soldiers. Using armored bulldozers to raze homes and agricultural buildings, the army has been methodically clearing a half-mile-wide buffer inside the Gaza frontier. Security sources said the aim is to deny Palestinian terrorists cover for their tunnels and gun nests. In another tough tactic, Israel has begun shelling civilian homes in Gaza suspected of concealing weapons stores. Residents are given a two-hour telephoned warning to evacuate. The new policies vis-a-vis Palestinian terrorism appear to be the brainchild of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who has voiced impatience with past definitions of civilians. “A person who shares his home with terrorist weapons cannot expect to be considered a noncombatant,” he said in a recent speech.
Israel presses Gaza offensive