Not long after a humanitarian pause of a few hours was over Israel sent thousands of soldiers into the Gaza strip backed by tanks. This is the first ground offensive in the strip in over five years.
The invasion is the latest escalation in the 10-day operation meant to destroy the capacity of Hamas to fire rockets into Israel and also the tunnels used to transport goods into the strip. Unfortunately, tunnels are also essential to providing many civilian supplies as well. Egypt has been cooperating with Israel in destruction of the tunnels and also continually closes the only crossing from Israel into Egypt at Rafah: Nearly two hundred Palestinians have been killed in Gaza in the past week, and while the death toll continues to rise, there remains no escape from the ongoing siege as Egypt maintains closure of Rafah crossing, the sole entry and exit point for the vast majority of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents.
The Israeli military said the operation was open-ended and was being carried out on several fronts. There are already reports of heavy clashes in the northern towns of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun. According to the Gaza Health Ministry there have been 243 Palestinians killed and 1870 injured so far in the Israeli offensive. Even so, Hamas so far has remained firm in its five demands for a ceasefire that include measure to significantly ease the Israeli blockade on the 1.8 million Palestinians virtually trapped within the coastal strip.
Brigadier General Motti Almoz said: “Our forces, large ground forces accompanied by massive air force support, naval forces and intelligence, are taking over targets in Gaza, operating against tunnels and terror activists and infrastructure.”
A spokesperson for Hamas Fawzi Barhoum said that Israel would pay dearly for the assault and that Hamas was prepared for the confrontation. Hamas hopes to take Israeli soldiers prisoners and use them as bargaining chips in any peace negotiations.
Barhoum said: “If they launch a ground war, they will be shortening the path for us to kidnap many soldiers in order to make a deal to end the bloodshed and release the detainees as happened in the past,” Giliad Shalit who was kidnapped in 2006 was eventually released along more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
A Gaza security official reported tank shelling around border areas since 8 PM Thursday as well as shelling from the sea. Power has been cut off to many areas. A Gaza resident told Haaretz, “They’re firing from every direction, everything here is shaking.”
Turkey and Qatar are involved in mediation attempts. Qatar has close relations with Hamas. John Kerry the US Secretary of Stae spoke with diplomats in the Qatari capital. However Hamas demands include easing border crossing restrictions, the opening of a sea corridor to Gaza, and allowing Gazans to worship at the Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, much more than Israel is willing to grant.