The Israeli military has announced ground operations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The military said it sent a range of ground forces into the Gaza Strip on late July 17. The operation was ordered by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who resisted calls for an invasion for nearly two weeks.
“A large IDF force has just launched a ground operation in the Gaza Strip,” the military said. “A new phase of Operation Protective Edge has begun.”
Officials said the invasion would be limited to attacks on strategic facilities of Hamas and its Palestinian militias allies. They said a key target would be Hamas tunnels that were penetrating the Jewish state.
This includes infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support,” the military said. “They’re moving now in various areas of Gaza.”
The ground operations began in the Gaza Strip amid widespread criticism of Netanyahu for agreeing to U.S.-supported ceasefires while failing to stop Palestinian rocket strikes on the Tel Aviv area. The prime minister has already fired the deputy defense minister for criticizing the conduct of the war, based on air strikes and the Iron Dome missile and rocket defense system.
“We are moving from Iron Dome to an iron fist,” Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said.
Officials said ground troops would seek to destroy missile and rocket arsenals, many of which were located in homes and schools. On July 17, the United Nations acknowledged that 20 rockets were found in one of its schools in the Gaza Strip.
“This incident, which is the first of its kind in Gaza, endangered civilians including staff and put at risk UNRWA’s vital mission to assist and protect Palestine refugees in Gaza,” the UN Refugee Works Agency said.
Hamas, which fired 40 rockets in about two hours, has accelerated missile and unmanned aerial vehicle operations. On July 17, Hamas reported another UAV infiltration of Israel, said to have been shot down near the southern city of Ashkelon.
“Aircraft detected an unmanned plane and it was intercepted with a surface-to-air Patriot missile near Ashkelon,” the military said.
Western diplomatic sources asserted that Israel’s entry to the Gaza Strip would last no more than several days. They cited heavy pressure by the United States for Israel to end military operations and focus on diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire.
“Netanyahu has been talking to [President Barack] Obama and telling him that he faces a revolt in his party unless he stops the rocket fire,” a diplomat said.
Israel’s military has already stressed that the ground operation would be limited. The military said the invasion would not seek to topple Hamas.”That is not the goal of this mission,” Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.