A large Israeli military force has positioned itself at the entrances of the Gaza Strip in apparent preparation for an invasion, Israeli military sources reported on Friday morning.

‘‘We are ready to quickly invade the strip and operate there if violence escalates,” an Israeli official said.

In preparation to this invasion, Israel split the strip into three isolated areas.

About 15 home-made mortar shells and seven home-made Qassam shells have hit Israeli settlements in the strip and the nearby town of Sderot in the Negev desert since Thursday night.

The online site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has been consulting with other high-ranking army officers about the possibility of a military operation in the Gaza Strip.

The army does not plan to operate in the entire strip, according to the report.  The operation will be “limited to the northern Gaza Strip and the city of Khan Younis in the south,” Haaretz said.

Following the Qassam shelling, which killed a 22-year-old Israeli woman, Israeli Air Force helicopter gunships fired five air-to-land missiles at various targets in Gaza city.  One Palestinian was wounded, and several structures were damaged as a result.

The Palestinian Authority’s attempt to stop the resistance from firing Qassam and mortar shells resulted in fierce exchange of fire between Palestinian Authority security forces and Hamas operatives. Two Palestinians were reported killed and more than 15 injured.