Israel Begins Ground Operations In Gaza
Despite reports earlier today that left open the hope of a cease fire agreement in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, late today local time Israel launched a ground offensive into Gaza in its ongoing effort to wipeout Hamas’s rocket capabilities:
JERUSALEM — Israel began a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, saying it would target tunnels that infiltrate its territory after cease-fire talks failed to de-escalate the air war that has raged for 10 days.
The military released a statement at 10:39 p.m. saying the goal of the operation was to “establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror.”
Palestinians and journalists in Gaza reported heavy artillery fire from ground troops in the north and Israeli gunboats stationed near Gaza’s port as well as a continuing air assault. The strikes were aimed at a rehabilitation hospital and, earlier killed four young children as they played on a roof. At the same time, scores of rockets from Gaza continued to stream into cities all over central and southern Israel.
Earlier at least four Palestinian children were killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City Gaza officials said, as hostilities quickly resumed at the end of a five-hour “humanitarian window” both sides had agreed to after nine days of fighting.
Gaza militants sent rockets into southern Israel starting precisely at 3 p.m., the end of the lull, and scores followed into the early evening, most landing in open areas. Israel held its fire for a couple of hours, but then hit hard, striking a house in eastern Gaza City around 6 p.m. and killing three children, according to witnesses and the Health Ministry of Gaza. Five other people in the house were wounded.
The Israeli military said five of the 57 rockets fired from Gaza hit open areas in southern Israel, including in the city of Ashkelon, and another fell short and landed inside Gaza, as sirens again sounded repeatedly. Two others were intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system over Tel Aviv. A military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, confirmed the resumption of Israeli airstrikes at 5 p.m. but did not specify any targets.
The pause, requested by the United Nations, came after Israel foiled a predawn attack when about 13 Palestinian militants emerged from a tunnel near a kibbutz, even as negotiations toward an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal continued. It was interrupted by a brief flurry of mortar shells fired from Gaza that fell in open ground near the Gaza border, but otherwise the quiet held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., allowing Gaza residents to safely come out of their homes to shop and survey the damage the battle had wrought.
Palestinian, Egyptian, Israeli and American officials said intense discussions were underway on terms for a cease-fire that could take effect as soon as 6 a.m. Friday, but none was willing to be quoted by name. A high-level Israeli delegation returned from Cairo, where President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and Tony Blair, the envoy of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peacemakers, met Wednesday with President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.
“The effort to achieve an end of the violence is ongoing,” said one senior Israeli official. “We’re not there yet.”
More from The Jerusalem Post:
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.
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.
The statement said that the security cabinet approved the operation after Israel agreed to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal on Tuesday, which Hamas rejected. In addition, the statement said, Hamas even fired rockets during the Thursday’s five-hour humanitarian cease-fire.
“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.
Obviously, news like this doesn’t bode well for the aforementioned cease fire negotiations. At the very least, it’s unlikely that the early Friday target that these talks were reaching for is realistic at this point given the fact that it’s unlikely that the ground operation is going to be completed by then. In fact, if the goals of the operation are as broad as some of the rhetoric coming from the Israeli government would indicate — which speaks of the eradication of Hamas’s rocket capabilities — then it seems unlikely that this would be a short-term operation. Additionally, Hamas is unlikely to be interested in letting up on its own offensive against Israel while Israel tanks are rolling through Gaza hunting them down. So, we likely ought to be prepared for this to be another long, drawn out fight in Gaza in which Hamas’s rocket capability will be seriously undermined, although probably not completely destroyed. This would buy Israel some period of peace, but likely put us back where we are now in another year or two unless, somehow, Hamas is removed from power and rooted out of Gaza, and outcome that seems to be unfortunately unlikely. The only other option Israel would appear to have would be a total war in Gaza to wipe Hamas out, but the civilian casualties from such a conflict would likely create more international pressure than they are willing to bear.
There is another possibility, of course. This could simply be a relatively small operation on Israel’s part designed to maximize the gains it has made against Hamas in the current conflict before a cease fire takes hold. That is not an uncommon tactic in war, of course, so it would make sense if that’s what’s going on here. For the moment at least, though, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the military is limiting its objectives in this operation, and Hamas seems to be fighting back as vigorously as they can. Given all that, I’d put the odds of a cease fire at any time in the nearly future as being pretty slim if not non-existent.