Israel launches ground offensive against Hamas

Gaza/Jerusalem, Jul 17: Israel today launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip even as hectic diplomatic efforts continued to broker a ceasefire to end the 10 days of conflict that has killed 237 Palestinians.

The army said in a statement that after 10 days of Hamas attacks, it has “initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip.” The army says the objective is to strike a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.”  The move comes hours after fighting between Israel and Hamas militants resumed following a brief lull to allow Gaza residents to stock up on food and other supplies.

A five-hour ceasefire was observed on the request of the United Nations for humanitarian reasons, but hostilities quickly resumed after it ended. Four children were killed in an Israeli airstrike in the heart of Gaza city. Two Palestinians were injured in another airstrike. Three Palestinians were killed in the tank shelling in the east of Gaza Strip.

At least 17 persons were injured after a hospital in Gaza’s Shejaiya district came under Israeli fire. Israel also shot down a Hamas drone, second such incident this week. At least three mortar shells were fired from Gaza during the ceasefire, and the Israeli military said a soldier was injured by an explosion during an “operational activity” near southern Gaza. Troops responded with mortar fire, the Israel Defense Forces said. Despite those incidents, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said both sides had “mostly respected” the ceasefire.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry had asked Israel for a humanitarian ceasefire following an incident in which four Palestinian children were killed on a beach in Gaza. The two sides agreed to the ceasefire to allow Palestinians to stock up on food, water and other necessities. During the lull in fighting, air raid sirens went off briefly in southern Israel and the truce appeared to be generally holding. Palestinians rushed to shops and banks as the five-hour truce agreed by Israel and Hamas came into force.

“Should the humanitarian window be exploited by Hamas or other terror organisations for the purpose of launching attacks against Israeli civilian or military targets the IDF will respond firmly and decisively,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. An earlier effort to permanently stop the fighting failed when Israel resumed airstrikes following a brief, one-sided ceasefire brokered by Egypt. While Israel paused for six hours, Hamas rejected the deal and continued firing rockets.

Hamas leaders said they had not been consulted, and complained the deal did not address their demands for greater freedom for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents. Egypt, which has been pushing for a cease-fire to end the conflict that began July 8, continued its diplomatic efforts Thursday. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas after Egyptian officials met with representatives of Israel and Hamas in Cairo.

At least 237 Palestinians have been killed and close to 1,700 have been injured since Israel began its anti-Hamas military operation July 7, according to Palestinian health officials. One Israeli death has been reported. Before announcing the temporary truce today, Israeli tank fire killed three people in Rafah town in Gaza. Their deaths came after another seven people were killed overnight.