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Israel invades Gaza after Hamas rejects truce

By Karin Laub & Ian Deitch

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 03:27 p.m. HST, Jul 17, 2014

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip » The heavy thud of tank shells, often just seconds apart, echoed across the Gaza Strip early Friday as thousands of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks launched a ground invasion, escalating a 10-day campaign of heavy air bombardments to try to destroy Hamas' rocket-firing abilities and the tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel.

Flares lit up the night sky before dawn and the wail of ambulance sirens mixed with the Muslim call to prayer from mosque loudspeakers as thick smoke rose into the air from sites where shells and missiles struck.

"There is a tank shell every minute," said an official in the Gaza security operations room, who said all of the seaside strip's border areas were being shelled and that Hamas fighters were exchanging fire with Israeli troops near a northern Gaza town.

"There is also fire from the sea toward police checkpoints."

Israel launched the offensive late Thursday after becoming increasingly exasperated with unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza on its cities, especially following Hamas' rejection of an Egyptian cease-fire plan earlier in the week.

However, a ground offensive could quickly lead to military and political entanglements for Israel, especially if more Palestinian civilians are killed.

More than 240 Palestinians have already died in the air campaign, including 14 children under age 12 killed over the past two days, according to Palestinian health officials. One Israeli has also died.

Hamas struck a defiant tone. A spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said Israel "will pay dearly" for the assault. "Hamas is ready for a confrontation," he said.

The Israeli operation began around 10 p.m. Thursday, with what the military said was an open-ended assault to be carried out on several fronts.

"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," said chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz.

He called on Gaza residents to evacuate targeted areas, warning the "military is operating there with very great force."

Gaza health officials said eight Palestinians were killed in the early stage of the ground operation, including a 3-month-old boy who died after a shell hit his family's Bedouin tent in southern Gaza. The body was evacuated on a donkey cart because ambulances couldn't reach the area due to heavy shelling, the officials said.

A resident of the northern town of Beit Lahiya, Jamal Abu Samra, said he was taking cover from the shelling by huddling on the ground floor of his home with his wife, six children and two dozen other relatives.

"We don't have power since the afternoon so we are listening to the (battery-operated) radio to hear the news," he said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said the operation was focused on the tunnels dug by Hamas under the Gaza-Israel border. Earlier Thursday, 13 heavily armed Hamas militants had tried to sneak into Israel through such a tunnel, but were stopped by an airstrike at the mouth of the tunnel.

"For Israel to send ground forces into Gaza is not a light decision. Ultimately we understand the risks involved both for our own soldiers and the dangers of escalation," he said. "But we felt this was necessary ... to deal with this strategic threat posed by those tunnels, which can allow terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and cause mass death."

Israeli officials have said the goal is to weaken Hamas militarily and have not addressed the possibility of driving the Islamic militants from power. However, Hamas has survived Israeli offensives in the past, including a major ground operation in January 2009 from which it emerged militarily weaker, but then recovered. Hamas has since assembled thousands of rockets and built a system of underground bunkers.

While the ultimate scale of Israel's ambition remained unclear, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had come under growing domestic pressure to ratchet up Israel's response to rocket fire that 10 days of airstrikes had failed to stem.

Israel has little stomach for the scale of casualties that a takeover of Gaza would likely entail, but Israeli public opinion appears to be nearly at a breaking point over the rockets.

Netanyahu may also have sensed he has a degree of international backing for action after Israel accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal Tuesday that was essentially a return to the status quo ante — and Hamas then rejected it. Similarly, Hamas ended a "humanitarian lull" of several hours Thursday by immediately resuming rocket fire.

However, the ground offensive brought swift criticism from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said he regretted that despite his repeated urgings and "those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further."

Both Ban and the Obama administration took Israel to task for the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza.

"I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties," said Ban. "There can be no military solution to this conflict."

Noting the deaths a day earlier of four boys who were killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli strike, the State Department said the high civilian death toll in Gaza has been "heartbreaking."

Still, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also criticized Hamas militants who continue to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, prolonging the latest round of violence.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers had massed on the border with Gaza in recent days, waiting for the order to go in.

Israel initially called up 48,000 reserve soldiers and later Thursday, the Cabinet authorized 18,000 more, the military said.

The ground operation followed a brief truce in which Israel held fire to allow Gazans to stock up on food and other necessities after being largely holed up at home since the conflict began last month.

Since July 8, Israeli strikes have hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and Hamas launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel, the Israeli military has said.

Israel last carried out a major ground offensive in Gaza in January 2009.

During that three-week campaign, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died. Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian toll, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.

Deitch reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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false wrote:
This is going to be ugly. Even though the IDF warns the citizens of Gaza to get out, where can they go? The borders are all closed to them in which to escape. Israel will certainly win the physical battle but lose the public opinion battle.
on July 17,2014 | 10:23AM
hanalei395 wrote:
They may come across the same problem the U.S. had in Iraq and Afghanistan ... IED's.
on July 17,2014 | 11:35AM
thos wrote:
The IDF not only warns them but gives them instructions where to go to avoid damage. Hamas tells them to stay in place and threatens them if they do not. Hamas "leaders" of course take cover.

As noted by Netanyahu, Isreal uses its weapons to protect civilians; Hamas uses civilians to protect its weapons by employing schools, churches &c. as ready service ammunition bunkers.

on July 17,2014 | 08:11PM
WKAMA wrote:
They are suppose to go to UN safe areas like Israel told them to do.
on July 17,2014 | 10:33AM
Leewardboy wrote:
UN "safe areas" are full. The people have no place to go.
on July 17,2014 | 01:59PM
goinglobal wrote:
well they should have thought about that when they keep electing Hmas to their govt. The Palestine people are just as responsible for this because they allow it to happen.
on July 17,2014 | 02:10PM
nitpikker wrote:
i wonder how much we'd save if we cut aid to isreal by half?
on July 17,2014 | 11:02AM
cojef wrote:
It's not about money, it is about the threat the Hamas pose to our security. Any terrorist organization with Jihadist connections cannot be trusted. Hamas vowed to wipe the Israelis off the map. Are or more succinctly you next?
on July 17,2014 | 11:39AM
hanalei395 wrote:
"Hamas vowed to wipe the Israelis off the map". ...... Hamas still has the mindset that before 1948, an "Israel" wasn't on any map.
on July 17,2014 | 12:03PM
thos wrote:
We could "save" even more by cashiering our entire military establishment, right?
on July 17,2014 | 08:12PM
8082062424 wrote:
Israel is doing what it has to do to protect herself. If some one was shooting rockets at the us on a daily basics we do the same thing she is doing . maybe we do ever more.
on July 17,2014 | 11:29AM
BigBoyChan wrote:
on July 17,2014 | 12:04PM
goinglobal wrote:
If someone was launching rockets at us on a daily basis there would be no Gaza strip anymore we would have leveled it long time ago. We would not give warnings to get out either we would just pound them into submission.
on July 17,2014 | 02:11PM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Sorry 8082062424, but I think you're wrong! With the current resident in the White House, it would be the usual waha nui and do nothing. With Netanyahu, when he says something, you can take it to the bank. The UN needs to dump Ban. He has lost his objectivity, if he ever had it, like the rest of the bleeding hearts. Most of the rest of the world accepts the existence of Israel. Israel is surrounded by its enemies who deny that. Remember that Israel conceded the Gaza Strip to Palestine in a previous settlement. The Palestinians have used it as a launch site to attack Israel by various means ever since. Let's talk about objectivity. Some of these advocates need to check their loyalty. Our troops have been required to fight under one set of rules, while the enemy fights under another, at least since during my time in Vietnam. Let me assure you bleeding hearts that we have never forgotten that. Now, you want the only real ally that we can rely on to do the same. Get real! Those who can't give their loyalty to our country should find some other to live in.
on July 17,2014 | 03:37PM
50skane wrote:
You are right on Charliegrunt! If America was more like Israel then we wouldn't have some of the problems we are now with terrorist organizations looking at us as a paper tiger. Sadly some people cannot be reasoned with and force is the only alternative. Israel makes it clear, "you mess with us and you get pulverized!" The Lebanese Hezbollah got the message loud and clear when they ambushed and killed several Israel patrol soldiers and kidnapped one. Israel launched a full on land assault on the Hezbollah and when they were done the Hezbollah were crying for them to stop and pleading with world leaders to get Israel to stop pounding them. Hezbollah will never mess with Israel again, openly anyway. That is how it has to be or terrorism will never stop.
on July 17,2014 | 06:08PM
thos wrote:
I'll say what most Americans did NOT say: Welcome home, Brother!
on July 17,2014 | 07:48PM
Charliegrunt wrote:
Mahalo thos! We don't hear that very often, except from each other.
on July 18,2014 | 07:35AM
Slow wrote:
Why is the U.S. in Israel's pocket? Is Jewish money that powerful?
on July 17,2014 | 11:43AM
BigBoyChan wrote:
The Israeli's are the United States biggest non-NATO ally. They're the only stable bunch in that region, just about.
on July 17,2014 | 12:08PM
juscasting wrote:
They are also our real life testing ground for weapons technology!
on July 17,2014 | 12:52PM
thos wrote:
Hogwash! We have plenty of such testing areas right here in our state.
on July 17,2014 | 07:51PM
Ronin006 wrote:
Slow, your name says it all. There is one and only one country in the entire Middle East that is a true friend of the United States. Can you guess which one?
on July 17,2014 | 05:50PM
50skane wrote:
Israel is our only real ally and democracy in the middle east.
on July 17,2014 | 06:11PM
thos wrote:
What international conspiracy are you going to trot out next? The Protocols of The Elders of Zion?
on July 17,2014 | 07:50PM
HanabataDays wrote:
Disproportionate retribution. Gee, that's not in Torah. Oh wait, it is.
on July 17,2014 | 02:03PM
mitt_grund wrote:
Yup. For each of four Israeli deaths (1 Hamas rocket got through, killing an Israeli), 50 Palestinians have been killed, or 200 total. Most were non-combatants. Of the 200, 50 were children. A tad overkill. So, you macho Stallone-types, tattoo those kids on your chests, thump like King Kong, and coo as to how brave it was to kill those civilians, especially those dangerous kids.

The Jewish lobby and their PAC's vigorously support candidates that are pro-Israeli, and constantly try to get more Jews into the U.S. Congress. One who has gotten rave reviews as an Israel supporter is our very own Brian Schatz.

The Jewish American media (could that include our own David Shapiro?) say that he will put Jewish priorities first, no kidding. I thought he was running to represent Hawaii. Must be another Brian Schatz.

on July 17,2014 | 02:34PM
lee1957 wrote:
So the body count acts as a scoreboard and nothing else matters, pretty simplistic don't you think?
on July 17,2014 | 05:06PM
Ronin006 wrote:
mitt_grund, you are as wrong as wrong can be. The Hamas terrorists have fired several thousand missiles at Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome defense system shot down about 30 percent which still leaves two or three thousand that landed in Israel. Fortunately, most of them exploded harmlessly. However, the fact remains they were fired by Hamas at Israel to inflict as many casualties as possible. Israel’s response is very appropriate and should continue until Hamas’ capability to fire missiles into Israel is eliminated.
on July 17,2014 | 06:04PM
thos wrote:
The Jewish lobby and their PAC's …constantly try to get more Jews into the U.S. Congress.


"Propaganda attempts to force a doctrine on the whole people... Propaganda works on the general public from the standpoint of an idea and makes them ripe for the victory of this idea." Adolf Hitler wrote these words in his book Mein Kampf (1926), in which he first advocated the use of propaganda to spread the ideals of National Socialism--among them racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Bolshevism. At the core of the Holocaust we find modern anti-Semitism, the current version of Jew Hatred - that same phenomenon which appeared throughout the centuries. The modern German anti-Semitism was based on racial ideology which stated that the Jews were sub-human (untermensch) while the “Aryan” race was ultimately superior. The Jew was systematically portrayed as a low-life, as untouchable rot (faulniserscheinung), and as the main cause of Germany's difficulties.

source: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/holoprelude/nazprop.html

on July 17,2014 | 08:02PM
basbas wrote:
Just de-populate (as in evacuate) the entire population of Gaza and turn ti back to desert. Then we won't have to see this happen every two or three years!
on July 17,2014 | 03:44PM
Akhmed_PKC wrote:
and Syria has been burning since March 2011.
on July 17,2014 | 04:23PM
thos wrote:
Israel made a huge mistake a decade ago in which hope triumphed over experience.

Background: The Israeli disengagement from Gaza (Hebrew: תָּכְנִית הַהִתְנַתְּקוּת, Tokhnit HaHitnatkut; in the Disengagement Plan Implementation Law), also known as "Gaza expulsion" and "Hitnatkut", was the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza, and the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2005. The disengagement was proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, adopted by the government on June 6, 2004 and enacted in August 2005.

Every - - REPEAT EVERY - - time Israel risks itself in hopes of a peaceful accord with its neighbors, these feral s u b h u m a n THINGS take this as weakness and do their best to massacre Jews. These THINGS cannot be reasoned with. Violent death is the only concept that matters to them. The IDF is well advised to deliver same.
on July 17,2014 | 08:28PM
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