Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning he may expand the Israel Defense Forces’ ground operation on terrorist targets in Gaza soon, even as Secretary of State John Kerry urged him to limit the scope of the offensive to destroying Hamas tunnels.
“My instructions … are to prepare for the possibility of significantly widening the ground operation, and the military is preparing accordingly,” the prime minister said on Friday, one day after Israeli infantrymen, tanks and engineering troops entered Gaza.
The Israeli military’s aim was to combat tunnels used by terrorists to infiltrate Israel from Gaza, such as on Thursday when 13 heavily armed Hamas gunmen snuck into Israel but were bombed after being discovered by IDF surveillance.
The IDF said the militants had been planning a large-scale terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and at 4:30 a.m. reached less than two miles from the southern Israeli community of Kibbutz Sufa.
After Israeli soldiers entered Gaza Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Netanyahu via a phone call to limit the scope of the military operation.
A State Department statement on the conversation read in part, “The Secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israeli Defense Forces.”
“The Secretary also reiterated our concern about the safety and security of civilians on both sides and the importance of doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties,” the statement added.
The IDF released two videos showing its troops entering Gaza. In the first, a commander tells his troops on radio, “Your nation is behind you and the terrorists from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are ahead of you. … Go ahead. Good luck. Over and out.”
Another video showed troops moving at night. The IDF said that infantry, tanks, artillery, combat engineers and field intelligence were taking part in the ground operation following ten days of air and sea strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
“The video shows the slow, methodical movement of IDF troops in the Gaza Strip, confirming, even if circumstantially, reports from Gaza that troops are avoiding densely populated areas and resistance is minimal,” the Times of Israel reported.
Hamas is warning the expanded Israeli offensive will fail.
The head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Mashaal said, “What the occupier Israel failed to achieve through its air and sea raids, it will not be able to achieve with a ground offensive. It is bound to fail.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, “This is not the time for diplomacy; this is the time for bullets and missiles.”
“We are ready and will teach the Israelis a lesson,” read a leaflet circulated by Hamas’ military wing Izz e-Din Al Qassam Brigades.