The Israeli military launched a ground offensive in Gaza Thursday night, the latest escalation in the 10-day-old conflict with Hamas.
BREAKING NEWS: A large IDF force has just launched a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. A new phase of Operation Protective Edge has begun.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 17, 2014
Though the full scope of the operation was not disclosed, the Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu had ordered troops into Gaza with the instructions to destroy tunnels Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons and to infiltrate into Israel.
“Our goal is to target Hamas’ tunnels that enable terrorists to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks. This requires precise operations,” an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said in a statement.
The Times of Israel quoted a television station in Gaza controlled by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which reported Thursday night that Israeli troops were seen on the ground in Gaza.
The ground offensive follows the 10-day aerial campaign against Hamas targets, including weapons storage sites and launching positions. Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza have fired more than 1,300 rockets on Israel since last Tuesday.
Gaza city tonight as israel begins ground invasion. Hearing explosions in distance. pic.twitter.com/ZUU9MYobli
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) July 17, 2014
A reporter with Israel’s Army radio said he saw infantry troops, tank and artillery forces taking part in the expanded military operation and that Israeli troops had entered the seaside strip from the north, center and south.
Hamas sopkesperson Fawzi Barhoum reportedly said the ground operation “is a dangerous action and the Occupation will pay a dear price for it. Hamas is prepared for this operation.”
Israeli media reported that Israelis who live near Gaza were told to stay indoors.
After a five-hour temporary cease-fire requested by the United Nations on humanitarian grounds, Hamas launched a massive amount of rockets on Israel Thursday afternoon and evening.
The Jerusalem Post reported that some 100 rockets were launched in just seven hours. At least 20 were intercepted by the IDF’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.
Hamas also launched its second drone this week into Israel, which was shot down by a Patriot surface-to-air missile.
Before the ground incursion, the IDF said it dropped 100,000 leaflets warning Palestinian civilians to leave the area where terrorist group targets would be struck.
Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukri blamed Hamas for Palestinian deaths.
“Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians,” he said according to Egypt’s MENA news agency.