Health officials in Gaza said 28 Palestinians were killed since the Israeli ground offensive began late Thursday, and as WaPo reports, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he has ordered Israel's military to prepare for "a significant expansion" of its ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, declaring that tunnels built by Hamas could not be destroyed solely through airstrikes. As The Guardian reports, according to military analyst Alex Fishman, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth: "The tanks, which serve as the heart of the assault force, received an order to open fire at anything that moved." Hamas warned Israel of the "dreadful consequences" of the conflict's escalation, while the US urged its close ally to restrict itself to a "precise" operation.
Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip at 10.30pm local time on Thursday, under massive supporting fire from air, sea and land.
According to military analyst Alex Fishman, writing in Yedioth Ahronoth: "The tanks, which serve as the heart of the assault force, received an order to open fire at anything that moved. The area and the targets are due to be seized by the morning hours. From here on, [the army] will start to clear the ground, in what could last for several days, depending on political developments."
The initial aim is to destroy tunnels dug by Hamas from Gaza into Israel for the purpose of launching attacks, and to secure and expand the "buffer zone" inside Gaza's perimeter in order to prevent short-range rocket launches into Israel.
However, Hamas is likely to attempt to suck Israeli troops deeper into Gaza, increasing the risk of military casualties.
And the Ground Operation is expanding...
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he has ordered Israel's military to prepare for "a significant expansion" of its ground offensive into the Gaza Strip, declaring that tunnels built by Hamas could not be destroyed solely through airstrikes.
The mobilisation of a further 18,000 reservists was authorised overnight, bringing the total on standby to about 60,000 in addition to those in service.
"In light of Hamas's incessant criminal aggression and dangerous infiltration into Israeli territory, Israel must act to protect its citizens," a statement from the prime minister's office said.
The US called on Israel to restrict itself to a "precise operation" on the ground in Gaza while stressing its right to defend itself against rocket attacks.
In a statement late on Thursday, the state department said Netanyahu had telephoned the US secretary of state, John Kerry, to explain his decision "to launch an operation to target the threat of further terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel".
It continued: "The secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israel Defence Forces."
It said Kerry emphasised the need to "avoid further escalation and to restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible".
"We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act," Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
A statement issued by Hamas warned Israel: "We're with you in the field, and we aren't afraid of the ground assault."
A senior Israeli military source told Yedioth Ahronoth news website
"There were altercations overnight but we are progressing as planned. As of now, some 14 terrorists have been killed in targeted attacks on rocket launching cells."
Gaza claims 28 Deaths so far... (via WaPo)
Health officials in Gaza said 28 Palestinians were killed since the ground offensive began late Thursday, bringing the total Palestinian death toll to more than 260, with the injured topping 2,000, since the conflict erupted 11 days ago. The most recent fatalities included three children who perished in an airstrike on a residential tower in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The Social Media blitz continues...as the operation is played on in real time:
"We have hit Hamas hard, and we will continue to hit Hamas hard," said Israel's military in a Twitter feed shortly after thousands of Israeli soldiers entered Gaza.