By Kathryn Maureen Ryan Impunity Watch, Managing Editor
GAZA CITY, Gaza – Israeli tanks entered Gaza after The Israeli military launched a massive ground operation into Gaza late Thursday, calling an extra 18,000 reservists into the conflict with Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon reportedly ordered the assault to destroy tunnels moving from the Gaza strip into Israel Proper. Tunnels connecting Israel and Gaza as well as Egypt have served as critical supply chains, not only for Hamas militants but also for critical civilian supplies including fuel. The ground assault represents as a major escalation in the ten-day offensive that has already killed more than 230 Palestinians, including the shocking killing of four civilian boys on a Gaza beach on Wednesday.
Israeli tanks entered Gaza on Thursday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ground invasion, The escalation comes after Israeli strikes have killed more than 230 Palestinians during the first ten days of the conflict. (Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera)
The offensive began after a group of gunmen reportedly attempted to enter Israel through a tunnel originating in Gaza. The Israeli army said eight of the 13 attackers were killed, and Hamas claimed responsibility for the operation. The Israeli military said the operation “will deal significant damage to the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip.” “We have hit Hamas hard, and we will continue to hit Hamas hard,” the Israel Defense Forces tweeted.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that “the beginning of the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza is a dangerous step with unknown consequences. Israel will pay a heavy price for it. “Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said of the offensive; “It does not scare the Hamas leaders or the Palestinian people. We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act.”
The escalation came shortly after a five-hour “humanitarian ceasefire” requested by the United Nations, aimed at giving residents of Gaza a chance to leave their homes for necessities after days of Israli bombardments. Both sides of the conflict largely stopped firing, and people were able to venture out to markets, grocers and banks, which opened for the first time in more than a week.
The ground operation comes just a day after Four young boys were killed during an Israeli strike while playing at Gaza beach on Wednesday, witnesses say, a fifth boy was injured in the attack and is in critical condition. The blasts that killed the boys struck near a hotel where several members of the foreign media are staying; several journalist witnessed the incident. The boys, two brothers and two cousins, were between the ages of 9 and 11.
Israli spokesmen Mark Regev said the results of a preliminary investigation suggests the deaths were the result of a “a tragic misidentification of the target.” However, A Hamas official called the killings a “war crime.” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zhuri said “those children were not firing rockets, they were just playing.”
According to a report by Human Rights watch several Israeli airstrikes have targeted civilian structures and other non-military targets. Israeli attacks in Gaza since July 7, 2014 have destroyed 1,255 homes and displaced at least 7,500 people.
“Israel’s rhetoric is all about precision attacks but attacks with no military target and many civilian deaths can hardly be considered precise,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Recent documented cases in Gaza sadly fit Israel’s long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties.” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Israeli bombs hit Wafa Hospital in Gaza while four patients were inside. Human Rights Watch has called on Israeli to stop targeting Civilian populations and infrastructure; weather the targeting of these areas in intentional or reckless.