Israel Launches Ground Invasion of Gaza

An Israeli army flare illuminating the sky above the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza late Thursday night accompanied by a heavy air bombardment after sending out widespread warnings to Palestinian residents to clear out of the way of impending attacks.

The ground operation began after Palestinians fired more than 100 rockets into Israel at the end of a five-hour cease-fire during the day to allow food and other supplies into Gaza, the military said.

“The prime minister and defense minister have instructed the Israel Defense Forces to begin a ground operation tonight in order to hit the terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel,” said a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

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Earlier in the day, Israel said it had thwarted an attempted attack by Hamas gunmen on the southern town of Sufa. About 13 fighters attempted to enter Israel through a tunnel but were stopped by an airstrike, the military said.

Hamas said their fighters were on a reconnaissance mission and had returned safely to Gaza.

In the latest warnings to Gaza residents, Israel widened the scope of the neighborhoods told to evacuate. For the first time, they ordered residents of southern Gaza to leave. Also for the first time, Israel told residents of the northeastern Gaza neighborhood of Beit Hanon to evacuate.

At least two warships were anchored off the coast of Gaza and artillery could be heard coming in. The clouds over northern Gaza lighted up shortly before the sounds of explosions.

Hamas responded with barrages of rockets from across Gaza City and elsewhere.

Four more Palestinian children were among the casualties on Thursday, a day after four children from one family were killed by an Israeli strike while playing on a beach in Gaza City. The mounting toll of civilian deaths and displaced in Gaza is raising international concern and building pressure on Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers to end the fighting.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 237 for 10 days of fighting, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. They include at least 25 women and 40 children. One Israeli civilian has been killed.

The aerial war between Israel and Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers restarted almost immediately after the United Nations-sponsored cease-fire expired at 3 p.m., with Palestinian militants firing a rocket at Israel, the Israeli military said.

The cease-fire was to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, where food and medical supplies have dwindled during 10 days of fighting. During the window of calm, the streets of Gaza City swelled with thousands buying supplies. Banks were thronged by people withdrawing cash.

Fareed Azarim, a 49-year-old policeman, waited two hours to collect his salary at a bank. He also received a money transfer from a relative in Saudi Arabia for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“I think this conflict will last for a long time,” said Mr. Azarim, adding that his large stock of emergency food stores had dwindled.

After the cease-fire expired, Gaza’s streets emptied out once again, though a few crowds of men lingered in front of one cash machine that was dispensing money. Shops closed and outdoor vendors went back indoors.

The ground invasion began as talks on a lasting cease-fire were believed to be progressing in Egypt. Delegations from both sides of the conflict continued indirect talks in Cairo on establishing a lasting truce, Israeli and Egyptians officials said.

The urgency to end the fighting appeared to have intensified after Israeli fire killed four Palestinian children on a beach in Gaza City on Wednesday, all of them under the age of 12, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Egypt said the parties were still “actively engaged” in negotiations over terms of a truce. Israeli officials said no deal had been reached.

Mosheer Al Masri, a Hamas spokesman, said rumors in Israel that a cease-fire was in the offing starting Friday showed that Israel was “begging for the cease-fire.”

He said Hamas was continuing discussions with Arab countries about how to end the fighting, but that nothing was concrete.

He reiterated two of Hamas’s key demands for any deal—the opening of Israel’s borders with Gaza and the release of prisoners that last month had been rearrested after the prisoner swap for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.

Militant groups vowed they would continue the fight.

Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said his group would continue strikes and has gained strength, experience and popularity since the fighting began.

He said his group had lost six people and would stop only when Israel agreed to end its blockade of Gaza.

Israel appeared to have complied with the cease-fire, but its military said Hamas launched three mortars into the southern Israeli region of Eshkol at about noon local time. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

A small Palestinian faction in Gaza, Al Nasser Sala Al Deen Brigades, claimed responsibility for the attack, but said it had fired the mortars before the cease-fire started.

Heavy fighting continued until the last minutes before the cease-fire began. Overnight the Israeli military said it had launched airstrikes on 37 targets in Gaza while Hamas fired 14 rockets into Israel.

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