Israeli army launches ground operations in the Gaza Strip
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The Israeli army has launched ground operations in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) said Thursday. An Israeli army spokesman said the operations would target the "infrastructure" used by Hamas.
"A large IDF force has just launched a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. A new phase of Operation Protective Edge has begun," the IDF announced on Twitter, referring to the Israeli operation in Gaza.
Reuters witnesses and Gaza residents reported heavy artillery and naval shelling along the Gaza border.
An Israeli army spokesman said the operations would target Hamas's "infrastructure".
"We are now continuing with the ground forces to strike terrorist infrastructure – Hamas infrastructure – in multiple areas throughout the Gaza Strip," army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told reporters.
A statement from the Israeli military said the operation would include "infantry, armoured corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support".
A Hamas spokesman called the ground invasion "foolish" and warned that the move would have "dreadful consequences".
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office announced earlier that he had given the order for the invasion.
"The prime minister and defence minister have instructed the IDF to begin a ground operation tonight in order to hit the terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel," the statement said.
Israel approved the deployment of 40,000 additional reservists on July 8, sparking speculation that a ground invasion was imminent.
Escalating death toll
Earlier on Thursday, three mortars struck southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said, just hours after a five-hour humanitarian ceasefire was supposed to take effect. Hamas denied any involvement in the attack.
Israeli tank fire in Gaza killed three people late in the day, raising the Palestinian death toll in 10 days of violence in the coastal enclave to 240, medics said. One Israeli has also been killed in the conflict.
Egypt sharply criticised Hamas on Thursday, saying it could have saved dozens of lives if it had not rejected an Egypt-brokered truce for the Gaza Strip.
"Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians," said Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, quoted by the MENA state news agency.
Egypt announced a blueprint for a mutual “de-escalation” that was to have begun at 9am local time on Tuesday and calling for hostilities to cease within 12 hours.
But Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the ceasefire deal, saying the proposal only addressed its key demands in general terms.
Israel warned 100,000 Gazans to leave their homes on Wednesday ahead of an intensified air campaign in the area.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)