The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

July 17, 2014

Israel sends ground troops to Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The heavy thud of tank shells, often just seconds apart, echoed across the Gaza Strip early Friday as thousands of Israeli soldiers launched a ground invasion, escalating a 10-day campaign of heavy air bombardments to try to destroy Hamas' rocket-firing abilities and the tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel.

Flares lit up the night sky before dawn and the wail of ambulance sirens mixed with the Muslim call to prayer from mosque loudspeakers as thick smoke rose into the air from sites where shells and missiles struck.

"There is a tank shell every minute," said an official in the Gaza security operations room, who said all of the seaside strip's border areas were being shelled and that Hamas fighters were exchanging fire with Israeli troops near a northern Gaza town.

"There is also fire from the sea toward police checkpoints."

Israel launched the offensive late Thursday after becoming increasingly exasperated with unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza on its cities, especially following Hamas' rejection of an Egyptian cease-fire plan earlier in the week. Palestinian militants have fired more than 1,500 rockets at Israeli cities since fighting began.

However, a ground offensive could quickly lead to military and political entanglements for Israel, especially if more Palestinian civilians are killed.

More than 240 Palestinians have already died in the air campaign, including 14 children under age 12 killed over the past two days, according to Palestinian health officials. One Israeli has also died.

Israel accuses Hamas of firing from within populated neighborhoods and using civilians as "human shields."

Hamas struck a defiant tone. A spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said Israel "will pay dearly" for the assault. "Hamas is ready for a confrontation," he said.

The Israeli operation began around 10 p.m. Thursday, with what the military said was an open-ended assault to be carried out on several fronts.

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