Roundup: Israel launches ground operation in Gaza after temporary ceasefire, death toll rises
JERUSALEM/GAZA, July 17 (Xinhua) -- Israel launched a ground offensive on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Thursday night after days of heavy bombardment, making the prospect for a quick truce even dimmer.
"Following ten days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip," the IDF said in a statement on Thursday night.
The operation was led by the IDF's Southern Command with close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support, the statement said.
The Prime Minister's Office said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon instructed the military to embark on the ground operation late on Thursday, which aims to "damage the underground tunnel terrors constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory ... such a tunnel was used earlier this morning by Hamas terrorists to enter Israeli territory, with intent to case massive harm to Israeli civilians."
The IDF said that it had called up some 18,000 reserve soldiers to bolster its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. The Israeli cabinet has given green light to the army's request of recruitment, making the total number of reservists to support the campaign to some 48,000.
In Response the Islamic Hamas movement said Israel's decision to start a ground operation in Gaza is an irresponsible and dangerous step, for which "the Israeli army will pay a heavy price. " Hamas is well prepared for the current confrontation.
The Israeli ground invasion was launched after fighting resumed along the Gaza border following a temporary ceasefire ended on Thursday afternoon. A UN-brokered five-hour ceasefire took place from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. local time (0700 to 1200 GMT) on Thursday to let humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.
After the cease-fire ended, the Israeli Air Force targeted approximately thirty targets in the strip on Thursday evening, including concealed rocket launchers, weapon manufacturing facility and terror tunnels, the IDF said.
In response Hamas-led militants fired about 105 rockets at southern and central Israeli cities on Thursday afternoon, twenty of which were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile battery, according to the IDF.
Eight Palestinians, including seven children under 10 years old, were killed in separate intensive Israeli airstrikes on Thursday, according to a Gaza Health Ministry spokesman.
Medics in Gaza also said that three people, including a child, were killed in Shujayia neighborhood in Gaza City when Israeli tanks stationed along the borders opened artillery fire at the area. The three are from one family, sources said. The firing also injured 15 others.
Palestinian medical officials said that the death toll in Gaza has surpassed 240 as of Thursday, with more than 1,770 injuries, during the ten days of Israeli offensive against the enclave. Most of the casualties were civilians, including 25 children.
Also Gaza security official said that thousands of Palestinians have evacuated from their houses in northern, eastern and southern Gaza Strip to took refuge to schools run by the United Nations. Humanitarian organizations in Gaza estimated that around 700 houses were fully destroyed.
In the meantime, mixed reports said a possible ceasefire negotiation may be underway in Cairo, as an Israeli delegation visited the Egyptian capital earlier on Thursday. But a Hamas spokesperson said that Hamas delegates did not attend the negotiations, according to the Ha'aretz Daily.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday to discuss the ongoing violence in Gaza. On Friday Abass is scheduled to fly to Turkey and meet Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan to talk about the ceasefire negotiations, the daily said.