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Fri, 18 Jul 2014 13:00:55 +0000
(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- Israel has approved an expansion of its ground offensive into Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday, as troops pushed deeper into Gaza to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels.
"...Since there is no way to deal with the tunnels only from the air, our soldiers are doing it now from the ground," Netanyahu said before an emergency Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, according to The Jerusalem Post. "We decided to launch the action after we tried all the other ways, and with an understanding that without this operation the price we will have to pay later would be much higher,” he said.
Israel launched the ground operation Thursday following a 10-day slugfest featuring rocket and mortar attacks.
At least 20 Palestinians have died and 200 others were injured since the ground invasion began. Additionally, one Israel soldier -- identified as Gt. Eitan Barak, 20 -- died while fighting Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces said. The casualty marks the first Israeli casualty among troops.
The death toll in the conflict has reached 260, with many of the victims civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Israeli troops targeted the tunnels because they are viewed as an “utmost threat” by Israel, an IDF spokesman said, with Hamas previously using the tunnels to sneak across the Gaza-Israel border.
The ground attack occurred following failed cease-fire efforts. Israel twice halted its attacks and has been negotiating with Hamas for a more permanent ceasefire in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas rejected the plans, demanding guarantees to ease the blockade on Gaza.
The IDF said it sent troops into Gaza "following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation."
The invasion was punctuated by the thud of tank shells echoing across Gaza, often just a few seconds apart. Heavy plumes of black smoke were visible across Gaza City.
The battle has broken a two-year lull in hostilities between Israel and Hamas and was triggered by the slaying of three Israeli teens and revenge burning death of a Palestinian teen. Angry protests escalated to rocket launches and retaliatory air strikes.
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