Israel makes first ground incursion in Gaza

The operation was carried out by special forces and did not appear to be the beginning of a broad ground offensive

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Israeli commandos launched a ground operation overnight in the north of the Gaza Strip, the first since the offensive against Hamas began, Israeli public radio said early Sunday, as the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm over the growing hostilities in and around the Gaza Strip.

The brief incursion targeted a rocket launcher site, Israeli public radio said in statements quoted by Agence France-Presse.

The armed branch of Hamas confirmed that Israeli commandos had exchanged gunfire with some Palestinian fighters during a raid on the coast of the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

The incident is considered the first such gunfight of a six-day Israeli offensive on the territory aimed at stopping Palestinian rocket fire.

The Israeli force was attacking a site in northern Gaza used to launch long-range rockets when it came under fire, a military statement said. The commandos returned fire and managed to hit the launch site, the statement said, adding that four soldiers were lightly wounded in the clash.

Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Meanwhile, The U.N. chief warned that an Israeli ground offensive would “undoubtedly increase the death toll and exacerbate civilian suffering in the Gaza Strip.”

Ban reiterated his call for an end to the fighting, which he said had “grave implications for the safety of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians,” his press office said in a statement, according to Reuters news agency.

The U.N. Security Council called on Saturday for a cease-fire.

“The Secretary-General does not believe that what is inherently alongstanding, serious political dispute between Israelis and Palestinians can be resolved via military means by either side,” the statement said.

On Sunday, two Gaza rockets were also shot down over the greater Tel Aviv area by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the army said, after at least three explosions shook the area.

“Iron Dome intercepted two rockets over the Tel Aviv metropolitan area,” the army said, several hours after another two rockets were intercepted over Lod, very close to Israel’s main international airport.

Israel says a ground invasion of Gaza remains an option, and it has already mobilized about 20,000 reservists to do so, but most attacks have so far been from the air, hitting some 1,200 targets in the territory.

The Islamist group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, striking deeper in the country than ever before.

The cross-border violence shows no signs of abating despite mounting international pressure on both sides to end the violence. The U.N. Security Council called for a cessation of hostilities and Western Foreign Ministers were due to meet on Sunday to discuss the need for a ceasefire.

(with AFP and Reuters)

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