An Israeli artillery shell is fired at the border with Gaza on Friday near Sderot, Israel. Late last night Israeli forces escalated their operation with a ground offensive, sending troops into Gaza. More than 250 Palestinians have lost their lives since Israel began operation ‘Protective Edge’. Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images
Updated at 8:45 a.m.
Israeli tanks and troops entered the Gaza Strip as part of a ground invasion late Thursday, heightening a conflict that so far had been restricted mainly to an air war with Hamas militants.
At least one Israeli soldier and more than two dozen Palestinians were killed after the tanks rolled in. NPR’s Ari Shapiro, who is in Jerusalem, tells our Newscast unit that it’s the first time in five years Israel has sent ground troops into a conflict. Here’s more from Ari:
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the offensive is aimed at destroying tunnels that Hamas could use to enter Israel. The military says it stopped 13 Hamas militants coming through such a tunnel [Thursday]. Netanyahu has also told the military to prepare for a possible expanded mission.”
Netanyahu on Friday told troops to remain ready for a significant expansion of the offensive. A military spokesman said Israel had begun to call up 18,000 reservists; that’s in addition to the 50,000 who have been mobilized in recent days. A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said infantry, armored, engineering and artillery corps troops are participating in the Gaza operation. They are being aided by the air force and the navy.
The IDF, in a tweet, said:
NPR’s Emily Harris, who is in Gaza, reports that the armed wing of Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, said its fighters clashed with Israeli troops along the northern and southern border areas. Residents, she said, reported loud, bright explosions in those areas overnight. She says some strikes hit central Gaza City, including a television production company serving international clients.
The conflict began 11 days ago and has left more than 260 Palestinians and two Israelis, including a civilian, dead. Hamas has fired more than 1,500 rockets at Israel in that period, The Associated Press reported. Israel, the news agency said, has conducted about 2,000 airstrikes.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which is known by the acronym UNRWA, said thousands more Palestinians were expected to flee their homes in the Gaza Strip.
As we noted Thursday, Netanyahu’s office instructed the army to prepare for the offensive after Hamas rejected a cease-fire proposal brokered by Egypt. But the two sides mostly observed a five-hour cease-fire Thursday to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.
The latest tensions reached a flash point over the abductions and slayings of four teenagers — three Israelis and one Palestinian. Until then, Israel and Hamas had observed a truce since 2012.