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Israel begins Gaza ground assault, UN warns against harming civilians
Published Friday 18/07/2014 (updated) 18/07/2014 21:02
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GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Israel began a ground operation in Gaza late Thursday on the tenth day of an offensive to stamp out rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave, that has cost 246 Palestinian lives.

The assault follows a brief humanitarian truce and an urgent appeal by both Washington and the UN that Israel redouble its efforts to avoid harm to civilians.

"I regret that despite my repeated urgings, and those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further," UN chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters, urging Israel to "do far more" to spare Palestinian civilians.

Hamas warned Israel would pay a "high price" for its escalation.

"Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the Israel Defence Forces (army) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip," an army statement said.

As the operation began, Israel approved the call-up of another 18,000 reservists, taking the total number approved to 65,000 for an operation aimed at protecting Israeli lives and strike "a significant blow to Hamas's terror infrastructure," the army said.

Shortly beforehand, the military began an intensive bombardment of the enclave, by air and sea as well as by tanks massed along the border.

Salvoes of rockets lit up the sky, and a seafront hotel in Gaza City housing scores of journalists shook violently with the force of the shelling by sea, an AFP correspondent said.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, pounding the enclave with an intensive campaign from both the air and the sea.

Earlier on Thursday, Cairo lashed out at Hamas, saying it could have saved dozens of lives had it accepted an Egyptian-brokered truce.

"Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians," Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said.

An initial ceasefire proposal which was to begin on Tuesday was accepted by Israel but ignored by Hamas, which continued to fire rockets over the border.

Targeting tunnels

Israel said the aim of the operation was to destroy the network of tunnels riddling the Gaza Strip, some of which are used for assembling rockets and others used for staging cross-border attacks on southern Israel. One such attack was foiled by Israeli forces early Thursday.

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, this evening instructed the IDF to commence ground action to strike at the terrorist tunnels from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory," a statement from the premier's office said.

A military spokesman said Israel had decided to send in troops after repeated efforts to end the conflict had failed.

"We have tried three times in the last ten days to de-escalate; every time we have been met with more aggression," Major Arye Shalicar told AFP.

"Our goal is to strike Hamas infrastructure and operatives in several places in the strip -- north, east and south. Part of the infrastructure that we will target is tunnels."

Military spokesman General Moti Almoz urged Gaza residents to flee areas where the army was operating, warning that the ground campaign would "be extended as much as necessary."

Following an appeal by Washington and the UN, the military pledged to invest "unprecedented efforts" to limit harm to civilians.

On the ground, Palestinian witnesses reported gun battles breaking out east of the southern city of Khan Younis, with military sources confirming it was one of the areas in which the troops were operating.

Since the operation was announced, five Palestinians have been killed, including a five-month-baby, raising the overall death toll in Gaza to 246, medics said.

2nd drone downed

Earlier on Thursday, at least five children were among those killed in Israeli strikes on Thursday with tank fire hitting a rehabilitation hospital east of Gaza City where most of the patients are paralysed or in a coma.

Two brothers, aged 7 and 8, who were playing on a rooftop with their 10-year-old cousin were among those killed shortly after the truce expired, medics said.

Since the operation began, 1,530 rockets fire from Gaza have hit Israel, and another 311 shot down by the Iron Dome air defense system, army figures show.

Also Thursday, the air force shot down a Hamas drone near the southern port city of Ashkelon for the second time this week, the army said.

Meanwhile, the UN's Palestinian refugee agency said it had launched a probe after finding 20 rockets hidden in one of its vacant schools in Gaza, calling it was a "flagrant violation" of international law.

Ahead of the operation, an Israeli official told AFP a truce had been agreed with Hamas which was to have begun at 0300 GMT Friday.

But Hamas denied the claim, with spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri telling AFP the news was "incorrect."

Earlier on Thursday, President Mahmoud Abbas met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo as regional efforts to end the violence continued.

During the day, Gaza residents had enjoyed a short respite for the first time in 10 days as both sides agreed to respect a five hour humanitarian lull to allow for medical aid to be transported into Gaza and let people stock up on food and other essentials.
1 ) Tibi / Tubas
18/07/2014 05:24
-1- This death and destruction is exactly what Hamas, and the other Islamic militants wanted for Gaza in before (in the 2012 war), now (in the 2014 war), and probably forever into the future too, and -2- If this death and destruction is Not what Gaza wants for itself, then it should ask Hamas, and all the other Islamic militant groups to either end the "resistance", or to leave Gaza, and -3- If this is what Gaza wants, then then the world should not interfere !!!

2 ) Daniel F. / U.S.
18/07/2014 06:54
What a pity that Hamas could not have used the money it wasted on weapons for education and creation of jobs.Any fool can fight but wise leadership nourished the people.

3 ) james bell / NZ
18/07/2014 07:03
Hamas will fail because it is not working for the people but for itself. It is nit revoloutionary group but a gang more like the Mafia than freedom fighters

4 ) Outlier / USA
18/07/2014 07:26
Ceasefire was offered by Israel and ceasefire was rejected by Hamas. Now ordinary Gazans suffer the consequences.

5 ) currie/curios / scotland
18/07/2014 09:06
Oh for goodness sake no.1/4 stop kidding yourselfs. Listen to the power of people not the leaders of the outside world who turn a blind eye to the terrorist state of Israel. Palestine is apartheid state and until this ends .....shame on Israel and followers. They are brainwashed and stampings their Jewish jack boots on Arab soil because they can.

6 ) Per / Norway
18/07/2014 10:11
Are these comments part of the Israeli social media propaganda? It surely looks so.There is only one to blame for the killing of civilians: The colonial state of Israel. Hamas is just a reaction to the daily violence Israel has promoted for decades through the settlement annexation, complete isolation and suffocation of Gaza, military violence against children etc. These are all acts reported by UN organizations, NGOs and most notably Israeli soldiers themselves (eg.Breaking the Silence).

7 ) Mel / USA
18/07/2014 16:40
The UN is just an annex of AIPAC and D.C. Ban Ki Moon,is just paid to ineffectually "moon" about "regret" &issue docile "warnings". ALL GAZA IS a trapped popualtion of POW CIVILIANS, with their legitimate militia's of DEFENSE against Zionist Israel's racism,bigotry,pedocide,apartheid &xenophobia. Notice?? how Israel starts its Army offensive on besieged Gaza when a Malaysian plane is attacked &MSM is looking EAST!And today is also International Nelson MANDELA(anti-apartheid)Day. SUMUD GAZA!
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