GAZA/JERUSALEM: A grim-faced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned yesterday of a protracted war in Gaza, dashing any hopes of a swift end to the three-week conflict as Palestinian fighters launched an audacious cross-border raid.
The Israeli army said five of its soldiers died in two separate incidents, including four in a mortar strike. Local media also reported casualties in the infiltration, but there was no immediate confirmation of this.
Inside Gaza itself, eight children and two adults were killed by a blast in a park as an unofficial truce sought by the United Nations for Eid Al Fitr collapsed.
Residents blamed the explosion on an airstrike, but Israel said a misfiring militant rocket caused the carnage. “It has been a difficult, painful day,” Netanyahu said in a televised address to the nation.
“We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished,” he said, adding that Israeli troops would not leave Gaza until they had destroyed Hamas’s tunnel network.
Some 1,060 Gazans, most of them civilians, have died in the conflagration. Israel has lost 48 soldiers and another three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling.
As night fell over Gaza, army flares illuminated the sky and the sound of intense shelling could be heard. The military warned thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes in areas around Gaza City — usually the prelude to major army strikes.
The explosion of violence appeared to wreck international hopes of turning a brief lull in fighting into a longer-term ceasefire.
Hamas said they had accepted a UN call for a pause in hostilities yesterday to coincide with Eid, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Israel initially balked, having abandoned its own offer to extend a 12-hour truce from Saturday when Palestinian rockets kept flying. However, calm gradually descended through the night with just the occasional exchange of fire heard until a series of blasts shook Gaza in the afternoon.
Foreign pressure has been building on Netanyahu to muzzle his forces, with both US President Barack Obama and the UN Security Council urging an immediate ceasefire.