An Israeli rocket is fired into the northern Gaza Strip. Photo by Reuters
Israel has stepped up its ground offensive in Gaza, pounding
targets with artillery fire and using tanks and infantry to
battle Hamas fighters.
Orange flashes illuminated the eastern Gaza Strip as Israeli
gunboats off the Mediterranean coast fired shells and tracer
bullets, and helicopters fired across the border. Hamas fired
rockets back into Israel towards the southern towns of Ashdod
Palestinian health officials said 23 Palestinians had been
killed since Israel launched its ground offensive against the
densely-populated strip of 1.8 million Palestinians on
Thursday (local time). Israel said one of its soldiers had
been killed in fighting.
A video clip released by the military showed six tanks
rolling in through the sand dunes of Gaza, after a soldier
opened a border fence, and two long rows of foot soldiers.
"We are using a very high level of fire power and artillery,"
Israeli military spokesman Brigadier General Motti Almoz
"A great number of soldiers are in action in the Gaza Strip,
soldiers are overtaking their targets, tunnels, Hamas
targets," Almoz said, and several "points of friction" with
Israel signalled the invasion would be limited in scope -
targeting tunnels dug by gunmen - and said it was not
intended to topple Hamas, the Gaza Strip's dominant Islamist
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded with defiance,
saying, "we warn (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu
of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act".
Live television showed interceptions of rockets by Israel's
Iron Dome anti-missile system and no casualties were
Almoz said one one soldier had been killed and several
wounded in fighting Israeli media said was concentrated in
several areas in the north and south of the territory.
The soldier was Israel's second fatality in eleven days of
fighting which spilled over into a land offensive late on
Thursday. A rocket attack killed a civilian two days ago.
In all, 251 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been
killed since the fighting began on July 8, Israel bombarding
Gaza while Hamas launched rockets against Israel.
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner
said on Twitter Israel had killed 14 Palestinian gunmen in
"exchanges of fire throughout Gaza" and destroyed 20 rocket
Hamas's armed wing said in a statement they had detonated
three explosives in northern Gaza and "clashes are ongoing".
It also said its fighters had repelled Israeli forces trying
to enter another Gaza town, Beit Hanoun, wounding seven
Israel began the air and sea offensive in what it called a
response to mounting rocket salvos, more than 100 a day,
fired by Gaza militants into its cities, sending hundreds of
thousands of Israelis dashing to shelters as far north as the
Tel Aviv business hub.
At least 20 more rockets were fired at Israel on Friday, a
military spokeswoman said.
DEFIANCE, "DREADFUL CONSEQUENCES"
A statement from Netanyahu's office late on Thursday said he
had given orders to destroy tunnels that militants use to
infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks.
The current conflict was largely triggered by the killing of
three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank last month and
the death on July 2 of a Palestinian youth in a suspected
Israel briefly held its fire on Tuesday after Egypt, which is
also Gaza's neighbour, announced a truce plan; but Hamas and
other militant groups rejected the proposal, saying it had
not addressed their demands.
"The directive for ground action was approved by the security
cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire
proposal, whereas Hamas rejected it and continued firing
rockets at Israeli cities," the statement from Netanyahu's
TANKS ROLL IN
The fighting has been the worst between Israel and
Palestinians in two years. The United Nations Security
Council will meet on Friday to discuss the developments.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking after the
announcement of the ground assault, implored Israel to do
more to stop Palestinian civilian deaths.
A statement from the Israeli military said another 18,000
reserve soldiers would be mobilised to join more than 30,000
already called up.
Hamas wants Israel and Egypt, whose military-backed
government is at odds with the Islamist movement, to lift
border restrictions that have deepened economic hardship in
the territory. Hamas is also suffering from a cash crunch,
unable to pay its employees in Gaza for months.
Fighting resumed immediately after the end of a five-hour
humanitarian truce on Thursday requested by the United
Nations to allow Palestinians to stock up on food.
Hamas leaders have talked up their "tunnel campaign" against
the Israeli enemy. One publicity video showed Palestinian
fighters hauling rockets through a narrow passage to load
onto a launcher that appears buried in an orchard. It is then
fired remotely after its mechanised cover slides open.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will visit the Middle
East on Friday to try to defuse the crisis, and for
discussions about putting a European mission on the
Gaza-Israel border, a diplomatic source said on Thursday.
Israel last mounted a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip
during a three-week war in late 2008 and early 2009 that
claimed 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.