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Breaking: Israel Drops Leaflets Over Gaza Telling Residents To Evacuate (UPDATE: Text Of Leaflets Added) (UPDATE 2: IDF Artillery Begins Shelling Gaza Border)

I've opened up a new sticky post for live-blogging Israel's group operation:
Operation Cast Lead - Day 8 - Updates

This original post from this morning provides some of the background for the IDF's decision to launch today's ground operation:

Meryl and I were talking about this last night. Any ground operation probably has to start before Monday: the ticking diplomatic clock puts Israel in a "sing or get off the stage" position. But the last few days have seen intermittent but torrential downpours in Israel. Since one of Hamas's major early objectives will be to repeat Hezbollah's early Lebanon II successes and destroy several of Israel's vaunted Merkava tanks - Iranian clerics were already talking up anti-tank missiles during Friday prayers - the IDF wants to wait for the ground to dry as much as possible. But it's already mid-Saturday Israel time. If the Israelis are going to roll in over the next few hours - launching the operation on the last night of the weekend or tomorrow morning - now is the time they have to start clearing out civilians. And right on cue, the CNN banner:

Israel drops leaflets over northern Gaza, warning residents to leave the area immediately to ensure their safety

Two of Israel's best military journalists have long articles this morning saying that the Defense establishment has been pushing hard for a ground operation:

The impression at this writing on Thursday is that Israel is going to launch a ground offensive quite soon. The decision will ostensibly be based on two cardinal reasons: the fact that the diplomatic initiatives are still incomplete (that's what happens when no one is in a hurry to prepare the ground for them), and the realization that without the movement of infantry and armored forces on Gazan soil, the Arabs will again be able to tell themselves that the Israelis are avoiding confrontation and making do with dropping one-ton bombs from 30,000 feet up. That, it is argued, is liable to lead to a disastrous outcome for Israel, particularly after the previous failure in Lebanon... In the past few days, Israel received almost identical signals from several moderate Arab states, formulated in language very different from the public condemnations they have issued recently: Go in if you must, but don't dare fail, they said... Random conversations on Wednesday with officers on the Gaza border turned up a complex picture. The soldiers in the spearhead units want the operation very much (which is the way of combat troops, and rightly so). A company commander talked about the need "for the people on top to decide already, because we can't wait here forever." Battalion commanders were more cautious, aware of the difficulties the operation will involve. Easy and simple it won't be.

If you're looking for the diplomatic and military context for the next 48-72 hours those are the places to start.

UPDATE: CNN now has a link for the story:

Leaflets signed by the commander of the Israeli military were dropped over northern Gaza on Saturday morning, warning residents to "leave the area immediately" to ensure their safety... "Due to the terrorist actions undertaken by terrorist elements from the region of your residences against the state of Israel, the Israel Defense Forces are compelled to respond immediately in the region of your residences. For your safety, you are ordered to leave the area immediately," the leaflets say.

The CNN writeup immediately goes on to querulously observe that "the geographic area covered by the word 'region' was not defined." That kind of journalistic instinct - it must take years of training to hone.

UPDATE 2: They've going in sooner rather than later. This is to clear out the area:

For the first time since the operation in Gaza got underway, IDF artillery cannons started to shell targets in the Strip. IDF artillery cannons began pounding the eastern sector of the Gaza Strip around 4 pm Saturday. Ynet correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai reported that portable artillery batteries are engaging in a heavy bombardment of the area... Most shells are landing in what the Palestinians characterize as the "security zone" adjacent to the Gaza Strip fence. The IDF is apparently also targeting rocket launching sites.

References and previously moved behind the jump...

* Iranian Cleric Dumbass: Hamas has "secret" weapon. It's an anti-tank missile [Shawrma Mayor]
* ANALYSIS / Are air strikes enough, or is a ground op needed in Gaza? [Ha'aretz]
* ANALYSIS / Israel must prepare to turn its military might from Gaza to Iran [Ha'aretz]

* "15 Seconds" Video Makes It Hard To Credit "Disproportionate Response" Nonsense
* Times Online: These Hamas Guys Are Actually OK Dudes, "Gaza Is A Secular Society"
* Gaza Hospitals Overflowing With Hamas Weapons, Palestinian Vigilante Murder


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