Israel launches ground invasion on Gaza

Israeli army reservists stand atop an armored personnel carrier (APC) outside the central Gaza Strip July 16, 2014.

Israeli army reservists stand atop an armored personnel carrier (APC) outside the central Gaza Strip July 16, 2014.

Israel launched a ground operation in Gaza late Thursday on the 10th day of an offensive to stamp out rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave, the army said.

“Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation, the Israel Defense Forces (army) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip,” it said in a statement.

The army said the aim of the operation is to protect Israeli lives and crush Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

“The IDF’s objective as defined by the Israeli government is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continues indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’s terror infrastructure,” the statement said.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to stamp out rocket attacks from Gaza and the army said the new operation will include ground and air assaults.

“This stage of operation ‘Protective Edge,’ led by the IDF’s Southern Command, will include close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support,” it said.

The Israeli army launched the operation after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday instructed the military to begin its ground offensive in Gaza.

“The prime minister and defense minister have instructed the IDF to begin a ground operation tonight in order to hit the terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel,” an official statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Soon after Israel launched the operation, Hamas warned that Tel Aviv will pay a “high price.”

Resuming bombardment on Gaza

Israel resumed aerial bombardment of Gaza on Thursday after a five-hour humanitarian pause ended, amid reports of ongoing talks on possible permanent ceasefire.

Two hours after the humanitarian lull, the Israeli army said Gaza-based armed factions had fired three mortars across the border.

The shells struck in the region of Eshkol, which borders the southern Gaza Strip, the army told AFP, blaming Hamas but without giving further details.

Hamas denied any involvement in the attack.

“They (Israelis) are lying. All the Palestinian factions are continuing to observe the truce,” a Hamas source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They want to use this as a reason to kill fighters,” the source said.

An Israeli official was quoted by Reuters as saying that Israel and Hamas have agreed on comprehensive Gaza ceasefire to begin starting on Friday.

“There is an agreement for a ceasefire beginning tomorrow. I believe it is six in the morning (0300 GMT),” said the official who asked not to be identified, according to Reuters.

The official said Israeli leaders approved a truce after a senior Israeli delegation held talks in Egypt.

But Egyptian sources told Al Arabiya News that they were “unaware” of any new pause between Hamas and Israel.

Fighting continued in the lead-up to the 10 a.m. (0700 GMT) start of the cease-fire Thursday.

Israel shoots town Hamas drone

Meanwhile, Israel also shot down a Hamas drone near the southern city of Ashkelon close to the Gaza border on Thursday, in the second such incident this week, the military said.

“Aircraft detected an unmanned plane and it was intercepted with a surface-to-air Patriot missile near Ashkelon,” it said in a statement.

Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza, said it launched the drone into the airspace of the “Zionist enemy.”

On Monday, Hamas boasted that it had launched a drone flight deep into Israel, targeting the defense ministry in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Death toll

Israeli tank fire killed three people in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, medics said, taking the overall toll from 10 days of violence in the Palestinian territory to 230 deaths.

One Israeli has also been killed by rockets fired by Palestinian militants.

Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said the three, all men in their 20s, were killed in southern Rafah shortly before 10:00 am (0700 GMT).

Their deaths came after another seven people were killed overnight.

Two men were killed in Gaza City, another two in Deir al-Balah and a fifth in northern Beit Lahiya.

One man was also killed in southern Khan Yunis and another in Rafah, also in the south, Qudra said.

In addition, 1,690 people had been injured during conflict, he said.

According to figures provided by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), more than 80 percent of the conflict’s victims have been civilians.

So far, one person has been killed in Israel — a civilian who died on Tuesday evening in a rocket strike near the Erez crossing, medics said. At least four Israelis have been seriously wounded.

Since the latest violence began before dawn on July 8, at least 1,021 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel, and another 256 have been shot down by the Iron Dome air defence system, army figures show.

During its campaign of air strikes aimed at halting the rocket fire, Israel has struck more than 1,750 “terror targets” across the coastal enclave, the army said.

U.S. asks Israel to be careful

The United States urged Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilians caught in the crossfire between the Jewish state and Hamas.

“We ask (Israel) to redouble their efforts moving forward to prevent civilian casualties, given the events of the last couple of days,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

“We believe that certainly there is more that can be done.”

Psaki called images of the children’s deaths “horrifying” and said that Secretary of State John Kerry has raised concerns directly with Israel.

“The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed,” Psaki said.


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