At least six people are reported dead after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the Israeli army to begin a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, following failed peace talks.
Israel has invaded Gaza, for the first time since 2009, to find and destroy tunnels being used by Hamas militants to infiltrate its territory, according to the New York Times.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to stamp out rocket attacks from Gaza and the army said the new operation would include ground and air assaults.
After peace talks faltered, that were supposed to be brokered by Egypt, the ground assault began following a five-hour truce and more than 10 days of air strikes and fighting.
Our goal is to target Hamas’ tunnels that enable terrorists to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks. This requires precise operations.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 17, 2014
A rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel exactly as the UN-requested five-hour lull ended at 3pm local time (10am Thursday AEST), and the military resumed its air strikes on the besieged Palestinian territory, killing three children in a strike in the heart of Gaza City, according to medics.
The Israeli Defence Force released a statement on Thursday night (local time) saying that the goal of the invasion was to protect its citizens and destroy Hamas, the Islamist movement which has a stronghold in Gaza.
“Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the Israel Defence Forces (army) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip,” an Israeli spokesman said in a statement.
At least 240 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air strikes since July 8, many of them children, medics in Gaza said, with a NGO based in the coastal enclave saying 80 per cent of the deaths were civilians.
Hamas said Israel’s fresh attack was a “foolish” move that would have “dreadful consequences”, The Guardian reports.
In an effort to protect its territory and citizens, Israeli military called up an extra 18,000 reservists this morning (AEST), to take the troop numbers at the Gaza Strip to 60,000.
The IDF defended the ground assault, saying it had prevented “a mass terrorist attack against Israeli civilians” from the Palestinian tunnels.
It said it had also earlier intercepted 13 rockets, including two over the Israeli city Tel Aviv, late Thursday night (Iocal time).
Reports of heavy artillery fire and at least six deaths have filtered through in the early hours of the new ground attack.
The IDF has also told Palestinian residents to remain in their bomb shelters for the rest of the night.
Media in Gaza have been told to leave their hotels and are headed to an undisclosed location, according to a Sky News report.
Washington Post correspondent William Booth posted this eery picture of the blacked-out Gaza strip, where he was camped out with other media.
World leaders have called for a swift end to the bloodiest conflict in Gaza since 2009, with Israel’s operation to stamp out rocket fire so far killing 234 Palestinians and cross-border fire from Gaza killing one Israeli.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop condemned Hamas for failing to put the safety of the Palestinian’s ahead of its politics.
She said it was a “spiralling situation” and a ceasefire was the only solution to protect innocent people.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he “expressed regret that an already dangerous conflict has escalated even further”, according to Al Jazeera.
As hostilities resumed following the brief lull, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency said it had found some 20 rockets stored in one of its vacant schools in the Gaza Strip, calling it a “flagrant violation” of international law and condemning the group or groups responsible.
With regional efforts to broker a lasting ceasefire gathering pace in Cairo, an Israeli official said the Jewish state had agreed a truce with Hamas to begin at 3am local time on Friday (1000 AEST).
However, Hamas denied any deal had been struck.
Cairo has once again become a diplomatic hub to end the fighting in Gaza after Egypt initially proposed a failed truce without consulting Hamas.
As part of the peace drive, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the Egyptian capital on Thursday, but no details were immediately released of their discussions.
Hamas has laid out a set of conditions, among them the lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade on the Gaza Strip, the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and the release of Palestinian prisoners Israel has rearrested after freeing them in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.
Violence flared before and even during the temporary cessation, but resumed with a ferocity afterwards, with three hours of fresh air strikes on Gaza, including one which killed three children in the middle of Gaza City, Gaza’s emergency services spokesman said.
– with AAP