Israel Launches 'Limited' Ground War in Gaza

Aim Is Tunnels and Rockets — Not Toppling Hamas

getty images

By Reuters

Published July 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Israel launched a Gaza ground campaign after 10 days of bombardments from the air and sea failed to stop militants’ rocket attacks, stepping up an offensive that already has taken a heavy toll in civilian lives.

Israel signaled the invasion would be limited in scope - targeting tunnels dug by gunmen - and said it was not intended to topple Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s dominant Islamist group.

Explosions lit up the sky in the early hours of Friday and residents in several areas of the densely populated strip of 1.8 million Palestinians said they saw small numbers of Israeli tanks that had crossed the border from Israel.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office late on Thursday said he had given orders to destroy tunnels that militants use to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks.

An Israeli military spokesman said Israel was not out to try to topple Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded with defiance to Israel’s invasion announcement, telling Reuters: “We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act.”

Gaza residents and medical officials reported heavy shelling along the eastern border from the southern town of Rafah to the north of the strip.

Residents said heavy clashes took place along the border, including in the northern towns of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya.

Orange flashes illuminated the eastern Gaza Strip as Israeli gunboats off the Mediterranean coast fired shells and tracer bullets. Israeli artillery pounded the area and helicopters fired across the border, Reuters witnesses said.

Rockets streaked from Gaza toward the southern Israeli towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon. Live television showed interceptions by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, and no casualties were reported.

Israel last mounted a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip during a three-week war in late 2008 and early 2009 that claimed 1,400 Palestinian and 13 Israeli lives.

No time frame was announced for the new operation, and the length and intensity of Israel’s assaults could depend on the scale of civilian deaths - casualties likely to boost international pressure for a ceasefire.

The current conflict was largely triggered by the killing of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank last month and the death on July 2 of a Palestinian youth in a suspected revenge murder.

Israel briefly held its fire on Tuesday after Egypt, which is also Gaza’s neighbor, announced a truce plan, but Hamas and other militant groups rejected the proposal, saying it had not addressed their demands.

“The directive for ground action was approved by the security cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, whereas Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Several hours after the announcement, two residents of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, said they could see a small number of Israeli tanks inside Palestinian territory.

A witness in northern Gaza said that several tanks had rolled through Israel’s Erez border crossing to the Palestinian side but had stopped short of residential areas, and that no clashes had ensued.

CIVILIAN CASUALTIES

Gaza health officials said 238 Palestinians, most of them civilians, had been killed since Israel began the air and sea offensive on July 8 in what it called a response to mounting rocket salvoes into its cities. One Israeli civilian has been killed.

The warfare has been the worst between Israel and Palestinians in two years.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking after the announcement of the ground assault, implored Israel to do more to stop Palestinian civilian deaths.

“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,” Ban said. “I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties.”

The frequent firing of rockets from Gaza has made a dash to shelter a daily routine for hundreds of thousands of Israelis. Launched largely at Israel’s south and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, many of the rockets have been shot down by Iron Dome.

A statement from the Israeli military said the operation will include “infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support.”

It said another 18,000 reserve soldiers would be mobilized to join more than 30,000 already called up.

Hamas wants Israel and Egypt, whose military-backed government is at odds with the Islamist movement, to lift border restrictions that have deepened economic hardship among Gaza’s 1.8 million populace. Hamas is also suffering from a cash crunch, unable to pay its employees in Gaza for months.

Fighting resumed immediately after the end of a five-hour humanitarian truce on Thursday requested by the United Nations to allow Palestinians to stock up on food.

Before dawn, about a dozen Palestinian fighters tunneled under the border, emerging near an Israeli community. At least one was killed when Israeli aircraft bombed the group, the military said.

While tunnel-hunting incursions would be far short of a full-scale invasion and reoccupation, there is still the danger for Israel that risky and time-consuming missions could fall to Palestinian ambushes.

Hamas leaders have talked up their “tunnel campaign” against the Israeli enemy. One publicity video showed Palestinian fighters hauling rockets through a narrow passage to load onto a launcher that appears buried in an orchard. It is then fired remotely after its mechanized cover slides open.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius will visit the Middle East from Friday to Sunday to try to defuse the situation, and will discuss putting a European mission on the Gaza-Israel border, a diplomatic source said on Thursday.

Fabius will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt and Netanyahu in Israel among other leaders, the source said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.