JERUSALEM/GAZA: Israel announced the start of a Gaza ground campaign yesterday after 10 days of aerial and naval bombardments failed to stop Palestinian rocket attacks, but it signalled the invasion would be limited in scope.
A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said he had given orders to destroy tunnels militants had dug to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks.
An Israeli military spokesman said Israel was not out to try to topple the Hamas Islamist group. Such a goal would likely entail a move into densely populated Gaza City, where urban warfare could prove costly to both sides.
Israel last mounted a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip during a three-week war in late 2008 and early 2009 that claimed 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.
No time frame was announced for the new operation, and the length and intensity of assaults could depend on the scale of civilian deaths, casualties likely to boost international pressure for a ceasefire.
Gaza residents and medical officials reported heavy shelling along the eastern border from the southern town of Rafah to the north of the Strip. But there was no immediate sign that tanks, deployed for days near the border, were moving in.
Explosions echoed and flashes of orange lit the sky in the eastern Strip as Israeli gunboats fired shells and tracer bullets. Israeli artillery pounded the area and helicopters fired across the border, witnesses said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded with defiance to Israel’s invasion announcement. “We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act,” Abu Zuhri said.
Gaza health officials said 235 Palestinians, mostly civilians, had been killed since Israel began the air and sea offensive on July 8 in what it called a response to mounting rocket salvoes into its cities. A statement from the Israeli military said the operation will include “infantry, armoured corps, engineer corps, artillery and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support”. It said another 18,000 reserve soldiers would be mobilised to join more than 30,000 already called up.