Updated  
July, 18 2014 11:33:00

Israel begins Gaza ground assault, UN warns on civilians

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories – Israeli ground troops backed by tanks and warplanes swept into Gaza on a mission to stamp out rocket fire that the Hamas leadership said on Friday was doomed to fail.

The deathtoll amongst Palestinians soared to 258 as the Israeli offensive entered its 11th day, with the army bombarding Gaza by air and sea as well as from tanks massed along the border.

Citing continued Hamas attacks, Israel said it was pressing ahead with an operation to destroy a network of tunnels riddling the Gaza strip, used for assembling rockets and staging cross border attacks.

Salvoes of rockets lit up the sky, and a seafront hotel in Gaza City housing scores of journalists shook violently with the force of the shelling.

The late on Thursday assault followed a brief humanitarian truce and an urgent appeal by both Washington and the UN that Israel redouble its efforts to avoid harm to civilians.

"I regret that despite my repeated urgings, and those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further," UN chief Ban Ki-moon told reporters, urging Israel to "do far more" to spare Palestinian civilians.

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel to limit collateral damage in Gaza and be "precise" in its ground assault on the Palestinian enclave.

Kerry emphasised in a telephone call to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu "the need to avoid further escalation and to restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible," a State Department statement said.

"Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the Israel Defence Forces (army) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip," the army said.

Hamas said the ground operation was destined to fail.

"What the occupier Israel failed to achieve through its air and sea raids, it will not be able to achieve with a ground offensive. It is bound to fail," Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal from his exile in Doha.

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza earlier said "Israel will pay a high price" for launching the ground operation and that his Islamist movement "is ready for the confrontation."

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Israel must stop its ground operation, warning it would lead to "more bloodshed" and complicate efforts to end the conflict in the enclave.

Israel approved the call-up of another 18,000 reservists, taking the total number approved to 65,000 for an operation aimed at protecting Israeli lives and striking "a significant blow to Hamas's terror infrastructure," the army said.

Shortly beforehand, the military began an intensive bombardment of Gaza by air and sea as well as by tanks massed along the border.

Salvoes of rockets lit up the sky, and a seafront hotel in Gaza City housing scores of journalists shook violently with the force of the shelling by sea, an AFP correspondent said.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza, pounding the enclave from both the air and the sea.

Egypt lashed out at Hamas on Thursday, saying it could have saved dozens of lives had it accepted an truce brokered by Cairo but also condemned the "Israeli escalation."

"Had Hamas accepted the Egyptian proposal, it could have saved the lives of at least 40 Palestinians," said Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri. An initial ceasefire proposal which was to begin on Tuesday was accepted by Israel but ignored by Hamas, which continued to fire rockets over the border. — AFP


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