War in Gaza enters 11th day, Netanyahu says Israel ready to expand assault

Ahram Online, Friday 18 Jul 2014

Gaza braces for Israeli ground invasion which is likely to increase the civilian death toll and wreak further carnage in the coastal enclave

Palestinians stand next to a house which police said was targeted in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City July 17, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Israel's military began its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip late on Thursday with the aim, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, of destroying of all tunnels between the territory and Israel.  

"Following ten days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the Israel Defence Forces (army) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip," the army said in a statement.

The army went further by saying the offensive, which includes air and ground assaults, seeks to "protect Israeli lives and crush Hamas."

The number of reserve troops was boosted to 18,000 after the government approved the whole operation.

According to AFP, a spokeswoman said the decision raised the aggregate number of soldiers since the start of Operation Protective Edge to 65,000. Yet, she did not mention how many of them had actually been mobilised.

In a televised session, Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel cannot possibly deal with the tunnels "only from the air," pointing out that his instructions are to prepare for significantly widening the ground strike.

Mounting death toll

As the Hamas-Israel confrontations resume for the 11th day, Gaza's death toll reached 265, with around 2,000 Palestinians injured.

On the Israeli side, the death toll reached two after an Israeli soldier was killed during the start of ground offensive on the edge of the Gaza Strip.

Emergency services spokesman, Ashraf Al-Qudra, said Friday's death toll was raised to 24 following the killing of a man near Beit Hanun at the northern end of the Gaza Strip.

Shortly before midday three Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli tank shelling near the northern town of Beit Hanun, he said.

Earlier, four other Palestinians were killed in several attacks on Beit Hanun, two of them by Israeli tank fire shortly after midnight.

Medics also found the body of a man killed in a strike south of Gaza City. Another Palestinian died in Shejaiya, east of Gaza City, Qudra said.

Earlier, two men from the Shami family were killed in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

And four members of another family died in another strike on the city, he said. Also in Khan Yunis, three people were killed by tank fire.

A five-month-old baby was among five Gazans killed in separate Israeli attacks on the southern city of Rafah.

Hamas said on Thursday that Israel will pay a "high price" for launching a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. "What the occupier Israel failed to achieve through its air and sea raids, it will not be able to achieve with a ground offensive. It is bound to fail," Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal told AFP.

El-Sisi-Abbas Cairo meeting

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas met in Cairo on Thursday to discuss the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip as well as the latest developments in the occupied territories.

According to a joint statement issued by the Egyptian presidency, both leaders agreed on the necessity of an immediate ceasefire in Gaza to stop the bloodshed and loss of Palestinian lives and assets. Such a ceasefire is to be based on the terms and conditions of the Cairo-brokered ceasefire of 2012, the statement noted.

In November 2012, Egypt sponsored a truce between Hamas and Israel following an assault on Gaza that led to the deaths of more than 140 Palestinians in non-stop airstrikes over a week-long period. Around five Israelis died as a result of rockets fired by Hamas fighters into Israel.

El-Sisi and Abbas expressed the importance of "reducing the suffering" of Gazans by working towards opening the currently-closed Israeli crossings to the strip, guaranteeing the freedom of movement for people and goods and avoiding the killing of civilians, especially in border areas, according to Al-Ahram Arabic news website.

Once a ceasefire is reached, Cairo will separately meet with Palestinian and Israeli factions to discuss all issues of disagreement in order to confirm the truce, the two presidents agreed.

Abbas asserted the need to provide international protection for Palestinians in order to pave the way for implementing a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders.

El-Sisi, for his part, expressed his support for this demand as it is consistent with prior consensuses at the Arab League level. Abbas and El-Sisi also emphasised the need for a donors conference to help rebuild Gaza after the conflict.

A top-level Israel delegation held talks with Egyptian officials for a Gaza ceasefire, Egyptian state TV reported on Thursday.

The delegation, headed by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, includes Netanyahu's envoy Isaac Molho and the head of the Defence Ministry's political-security department Amos Gilad.

Reactions & ceasefire attempts

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his regret that Israel has launched a ground offensive against Gaza despite calls for restraint, UN News Centre reported.  

“I regret that despite my repeated urgings, and those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further,” he stated during a photo-op at United Nations Headquarters with his newly appointed special envoys for Syria.

“In the past 24 hours, there have been a number of incidents involving the deaths of civilians, including the appalling killing of four boys on a beach in Gaza City,” Ban said.

“I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties. There can be no military solution to this conflict. This applies as much to Israel-Palestine as it does to Syria.”

The UN chief had earlier welcomed the humanitarian truce in Gaza and hoped it would lead to a "more durable calm." Hamas and Israel said they would cease attacks for five hours on Thursday at 0700 GMT for a humanitarian truce based on a UN request.

Two hours later, the Israeli army said three mortars fired from Gaza hit Israel, but Hamas denied any projectiles had been fired. Minutes before the five-hour truce went into effect, Israeli tanks hit a house in southern Gaza and killed three people.

In a press briefing on Thursday, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki urged all partied to do all they can to protect civilians and expressed concern about the safety and security of civilians on both sides.

"We have been heartbroken by the high civilian death toll in Gaza, including the death of four innocent Palestinian children as they were playing on a beach in Gaza just yesterday," Psaki said.

Psaki announced that US Secretary of State John Kerry has been in touch daily with Israel, Egypt and "with a range of countries on the region."

"Today he spoke with – again with Egyptian foreign minister, with the Qatari foreign minister, and those have been regular occurrences. He hasn’t just supported the ceasefire track, he’s encouraged others to support it in full coordination with Egypt, who’s leading this effort and in full coordination – of course, we’re in close touch with Israel, as I mentioned," she was quoted as saying.

On Monday, Egypt launched a ceasefire initiative concerning the Hamas-Israel war that calls for an "immediate" end to hostilities from both sides.

As stipulated in the initiative's text, Egypt proposed a truce to be implemented starting from 0600 GMT on Tuesday, with a ceasefire going into effect 12 hours later.

Within 48 hours of the truce announcement, Cairo was to host high-level delegations from both Israeli and Palestinian factions to discuss trust-building measures required for confirming the implementation of the deal.

On Wednesday, Hamas officially rejected the proposal following "discussions within the internal institutions of the movement," Reuters reported. Confrontations have resumed ever since.


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