Israel began a ground invasion into Gaza Strip on Thursday night after talks to reach a permanent ceasefire failed to de-escalate the war, which has killed more than 200 Palestinians and one Israeli.
The Israeli military released a statement saying its objective “to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continues indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’s terror infrastructure.”
The military said that the ground invasion came “after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation” by Hamas, the Islamist movement in control of Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government, meanwhile, approved the draft of 18,000 new reserve soldiers, raising the overall number of soldiers called in since the start of Operation Protective Edge to 65,000, according to an Israeli military spokesman.
Israel launched the operation on July 8 to stamp out rocket attacks from Gaza. The ground assault launched Thursday will “include close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support,” the military said in a statement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed the military to begin its ground offensive in Gaza.
“The prime minister and defense minister have instructed the IDF to begin a ground operation tonight in order to hit the terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel,” an official statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
Soon after Israel launched the operation, Hamas warned that Tel Aviv will pay a “high price.”
Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel since the start of hostilities 10 days ago, leading to the death of one Israeli. On the opposite side, Israel attacked more than 1,600 targets in Gaza, killing more than 200 people, most of them civilians.
Israeli tank fire killed three people in the Gaza Strip on Thursday, medics said. Gaza emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said the three, all men in their 20s, were killed in southern Rafah shortly before 10:00 am (0700 GMT).
Their deaths came after another seven people were killed overnight.
Two men were killed in Gaza City, another two in Deir al-Balah and a fifth in northern Beit Lahiya.
One man was also killed in southern Khan Yunis and another in Rafah, also in the south, Qudra said.
In addition, 1,690 people had been injured during conflict, he said.
According to figures provided by the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), more than 80 percent of the conflict's victims have been civilians.
So far, one person has been killed in Israel -- a civilian who died on Tuesday evening in a rocket strike near the Erez crossing, medics said. At least four Israelis have been seriously wounded.
Since the latest violence began before dawn on July 8, at least 1,021 rockets fired from Gaza have struck Israel, and another 256 have been shot down by the Iron Dome air defence system, army figures show.
During its campaign of air strikes aimed at halting the rocket fire, Israel has struck more than 1,750 “terror targets” across the coastal enclave, the army said.
U.S. asks Israel to be careful
The United States urged Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilians caught in the crossfire between the Jewish state and Hamas.
“We ask (Israel) to redouble their efforts moving forward to prevent civilian casualties, given the events of the last couple of days,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
“We believe that certainly there is more that can be done.”
Psaki called images of the children’s deaths “horrifying” and said that Secretary of State John Kerry has raised concerns directly with Israel.
“The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed,” Psaki said.
[With AFP and Reuters]