Israel starts ground offensive in Gaza

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Israeli tank

 By YAAKOV LAPPIN, HERB KEINON

Netanyahu’s office says purpose of mission is to destroy terror tunnels and seriously harm the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.

After days of waiting and deliberation, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday night directed the IDF to send ground troops into Gaza to strike the terror tunnels into Israel.

Signalling that the initial phase of the ground attack will be limited, a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon Netanyahu directed the IDF to prepare to expand the ground operation.

“In light of Hamas’ continuous criminal aggression, and the dangerous infiltration into Israeli territory, Israel is obligated to act in defense of its citizens,” the statement said.

The statement said that Operation Protective Edge, now in its 10th day, will continue until its goals are reached: restoring quiet for an extended period of time,and delivering a significant blow to Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza.

Prior to the commencement of the ground invasion, the IDF launched a massive wave of combined air and artillery strikes on Thursday night.

The ground invasion comes hours after a Hamas assault squad of thirteen highly armed terrorists attempted to carry out a massacre of civilians at Kibbutz Sufa, near the border, before being blocked by the IDF.

Infantry, Armored Corps, Engineering Corps, artillery, and intelligence units are taking over various areas in Gaza, and are all working with one another and the air force. They are operating in northern, central, and southern Gaza, where Hamas has dug an extensive terrorist tunnel network.

The IDF’s Southern Command is overseeing the ground offensive.

The units involved have undergone intensive training recently ahead of their missions, Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz, IDF spokesman, said on Thursday night.

“The operation has reached its ground phase,” Almoz said. “Large numbers of forces began a focused effort to destroy tunnels in Gaza.

We are in a new stage,” he stated. At the same time, the air force is continuing with air strikes against Hamas and Islamic Jihad around Gaza.

The Ground Forces are currently engaging terrorist infrastructure, and the operation “will be expanded as needed,” Almoz said. “They’re moving now in various areas of Gaza. We will continue to attack in every location we think needs to be struck,” he warned.

The IDF is currently calling up more reserves, Almoz added.

Palestinian sources said strikes occurred up and down the Strip, adding that one strike targeted a motorcycle apparently carrying members of a rocket launching cell on their way to an attack on Israel.

At around 10:00 p.m. rocket sirens sounded in the Tel Aviv area, and in the Shfela. Iron Dome made a number of interceptions in the Tel Aviv area.

Hamas bombarded Israel on Thursday with rockets after the end of the humanitarian truce, firing over 100 projectiles after 3 p.m. Eighty one rockets landed in open areas, two fell inside villages, damaging two homes, and 20 were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.

Also on Thursday, a drone from Gaza was detected in Israeli airspace, over the Ashkelon area. The IAF fired a patriot surface-to-air missile at the aircraft, shooting it down. It was the second Hamas drone to be shot down in recent days.

The IDF on Thursday warned citizens of Gaza to evacuate their homes and make their way from less populated areas to the Strip’s major cities.

Close to 100,000 leaflets containing the message were dropped over the territory and hundreds of thousands of citizens from all over Gaza received recorded phone messages warning them to vacate villages.

Air raid sirens sounded throughout southern and central areas during the day. Ashkelon and Ashdod were targeted by Hamas repeatedly in the evening, and were successfully defended by Iron Dome.

Iron Dome intercepted two rockets over central Israel and the Sharon district in the evening, and one over the city of Ashdod. Several rockets landed in open areas.

The Gaza-border region of Eshkol came under continuous rocket barrages. Some ten rockets in open areas, and one damaged a home.

Between 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., Hamas fired 40 rockets at Israel, and Iron Dome shot three down Two rockets were fired at Beersheba, with one falling in an open area and a second intercepted over the Negev city.

Within a minute of the ceasefire ending, rockets were fired from Gaza at the Ashkelon industrial area and Hof Ashkelon region. Most fell in open areas.

The humanitarian ceasefire was violated when Hamas fired 3 projectiles at the Eshkol region. The rockets exploded in open areas.

On Thursday morning, one rocket was intercepted over the greater Tel Aviv and Sharon district, and one rocket fell in an open area. In Beersheba, Iron Dome intercepted an incoming Gazan rocket.