UPDATE: Afternoon Escalation.
The Kassam that landed in the middle of Ashkelon today has seriously escalated the situation according to Israel. Forces in the North of the strip are increasing late in the day Israel time, JPOST asserts in the article that a battalion sized force is now beyond the Gaza frontier. The launching of the rocket with IDF troops operating in the area is what my asinine French friends in Europe might call a faux pas.
Olmert has issued words that sound particularly harsh, alluding to making the Hamas 'pay'. While he's had a tendency to issue plenty of bark with a smaller bite, Ashkelon's population is 120,000 strong and the city is an industrial base, it won't take too many rockets hitting there to force Israel's hand and by extension Prime Minister Olmert's.
On the map just below the arrow pointing to Ashkelon leads to the city about 10 klicks away. Hamas claims the rocket had a range of 15km, given those distances and the locations of IDF troops.. I'm speculating (and this is pure speculation) that the launch came from below the old Israeli settlement marked Dugit near the coast, perhaps I'll see something about it on the Israeli news.
YNET: Army steps up Gaza operations in the North
Kassam fire in Sderot has dropped radically (by 90%)
The IDF is now doing some very limited work along the security fence line in the North of Gaza. Starting really from last night, when they sent in some very small forces consisting of dozers, a few tanks and support vehicles – positioning themselves on the outskirts of Beit Hanoun to clear roadblocks and obstructions.
This is a far cry from the initial rejected Army plan. The primary focus reported is clearing mines, IED's, and looking for tunnels which are now an increasing concern with large amounts of IDF forces massed outside Gaza. The troops assembled, in case there is a go for a larger scale operation or terrorists continue to mount attacks as has been the case sporadically the last few days, with no casualties reported for the IDF.
The area in the North of the map near Erez, and the orange areas are the focus for now, there is no declared activity in Beit Hanoun, but plans for 'pinpoint' operations are in place, also meaning special forces are clearly operating & gathering intelligence which is standard procedure for Western militaries.
Keeping in mind that Israel for nearly a year now has NOT even been these few hundred metres inside Gaza, they have plenty to do along the border on the Gaza side as far as clean up goes. As posted previously, these areas are prime kassam launching zones against the southern Israeli civilian population.
Key Gazan access road links the two operations
The main road on the map above listed as #4 is the primary South / North Gaza road, it runs the length of the strip to the Egypt Rafah crossing and it has been a strong focus of the IDF which is operating along it in the south as well. The map below shows the IDF southern deployments which extend in green over that same road, #4. The obvious factor, controlling / preventing the movement of abducted Corporal Gilad Shalit, now missing 9 days.