Israel Launches Ground Assault in Gaza as Violence Escalates

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An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza Strip, at the Israeli Gaza border, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Edited by: Fern Sidman

Israel announced late Thursday that “IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking the Gaza Strip.”

The extent of the ground assault was not immediately clear Thursday, but Israeli forces announced that they had also ramped up air strikes in Gaza, the Washington Post reported.

The Israeli military has hit over 700 Hamas targets since Monday after a barrage of rockets were launched in the country by Hamas — a retaliatory strike dubbed by Israeli officials as Operation Guardians of the Walls, according to the Jerusalem Post.

AP reported late on Thursday that Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the mobilization of an additional 9,000 reservists.

The chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, said troops were massing along the Gaza border for a possible ground operation. He said tanks, armored vehicles and artillery were being prepared “for mobilization at any given moment.”

Tsahi Daboush, the defense correspondent of Army Radio, tweeted: “When the Israeli army says ground troops it means artillery and tanks on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza.”

Speaking on video tape, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said:  “I said that we will exact a very heavy price for Hamas. We are doing this, and we will continue to do so.”

Israeli officials confirmed Thursday that three rockets were also fired from Lebanon — although they fell into the Mediterranean before reaching land and doing any harm.

The AP reported that early Friday, the Israeli military said air and ground troops struck Gaza in what appeared to be the heaviest attacks yet. Masses of red flames illuminated the skies as the deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake. The strikes were so strong that people inside the city, several kilometers away, could be heard screaming in fear.

AP reported that the fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas, claiming to be the defender of Jerusalem, fired a barrage of long-range rockets toward the city in response to what it said were Israeli provocations. Israel quickly responded with a series of airstrikes.

Egypt often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, and it has been a key player in ending past rounds of fighting. The officials met first with Hamas leaders in Gaza before holding talks with Israelis in Tel Aviv, two Egyptian intelligence officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was also in touch with the Egyptians, the group said.

Despite those efforts, the fighting only intensified. Israeli aircraft pummeled targets in Gaza throughout the day. And late Thursday, Israel fired tank and artillery shells across the border for the first time, sending scores of terrified residents fleeing for safety.

“The decision to bomb Tel Aviv, Dimona and Jerusalem is easier for us than drinking water,” a Hamas spokesman boasted.

AP reported that Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, saying any invasion would be a chance “to increase our catch” of dead or captive soldiers.