At least 25 killed as Israel expands Gaza push

Screengrab of a YouTube video posted by the Israel Defense Forces shows an Israeli tank entering Gaza Strip as Tel Aviv began its ground operations in the Palestinian territory.  

At least 24 Palestinians were killed overnight into Friday — with dozens more reported injured — officials said, as Israel ratcheted up its offensive in the Gaza Strip with ground troops.

The first Israeli soldier was also killed in the ground fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli military confirmed on Friday.

That means the overall death toll in the densely populated coastal enclave climbed to more than 260, with 2,000 injured, many of them civilians, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said.

The Israeli ground operation came in the wake of a rejection of an Egyptian peace proposal by Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Strip, and the decision by armed groups within the Strip to begin launching rockets immediately after the end of a U.N.-brokered humanitarian lull in fighting on Thursday.

Israel responded with massive aerial and artillery shelling. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a coward” for not launching a wider offensive.

“If he (Netanyahu) goes deeper into the Gaza Strip, the territory will turn into a graveyard for his soldiers,” he said.

Footage from the Israel Defence Forces shows an Israeli soldier opening a gate into the border fence before midnight (2.30 a.m. IST, Friday), followed by tanks and troops.

“Over the course of the night, infantry, armoured corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence forces operated on the ground in various locations across the Gaza Strip,” a military statement said.

It said soldiers shot some 14 gunmen. They exposed and destroyed concealed rocket launchers and were searching for tunnels — the main goal of the operation at this stage. At least two such tunnels were found by noon, the Army said.

On Wednesday, 13 heavily armed militants had managed to infiltrate Israel via a Gaza tunnel. They were spotted and fired on from the air before they could carry out an attack. Israel regards the tunnels as a major threat.

Mr. Netanyahu, in a televised Cabinet session at Israel’s security headquarters in Tel Aviv, warned the military had been instructed to prepare for a “serious expansion of the ground activity.” Israel’s top consideration was to restore security and quiet to its residents, the premier said.

“We are sorry for any mistaken hits of civilians” in Gaza, he added, but said he held Hamas responsible.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said the ground operation had no time limit.

“I wish” demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip could be achieved by diplomatic means, he said, but if left no choice, Israel would even consider a temporary reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.

A Palestinian hospital in Gaza City’s south-eastern outskirts, Wafa rehabilitation and geriatric hospital, was reported to have been badly damaged after coming under fire and shelling late Thursday.

Doctors and nurses managed to evacuate the patients, a volunteer said. The hospital had earlier received warning telephone calls by the Israeli military, urging staff to evacuate the hospital because it was in an area of heavy fighting. But some 17 patients, aged between 14 and 95, who suffer from various degrees of paralysis, could not be evacuated, so some 30 staff members as well as pro-Palestinian foreign activists had stayed behind.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed dismay at the fighting and urged both sides to end hostilities.

Hamas’ armed wing, al-Qassam Brigades, said gun battles between militants and Israeli solders were taking place north-west of the town of Beit Lahiya. The group said it had exploded three roadside bombs aimed at Israeli armoured vehicles in northern Gaza, with no details on casualties or damage.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the ground operation would “complicate” the search for a peace deal, according to the official Wafa news agency.

He is due to travel to Turkey later Friday to push for a deal, the report said.

In a telephone conversation with Mr. Netanyahu late Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel to make the ground incursion “a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israel Defence Forces.”

Meanwhile, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Friday urged Israel to immediately end its Gaza incursion and enter into a ceasefire with Hamas. “Israel’s ground military operation can only add to the suffering of the Palestinian people and must be brought to an immediate end,” said Mr. Yudhoyono, leader of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.

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Printable version | Oct 28, 2020 3:08:31 PM |

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