Israel entered the second week of its offensive against rockets from Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday evening by launching a much-expected ground operation into the coastal strip.
Shortly after the ground operation began, a heavy exchange of fire was reported between Israeli troops and Hamas militants inside the Gaza Strip.
“The objective is to destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure in the area of operations,” said Israel Defense Forces Major Avital Leibovitch, a military spokeswoman, confirming that incursions were under way. “We are going to take some of the launch areas used by Hamas.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s office issued a statement, emphasizing that this stage of the operation will further the goals of the eight-day offensive as voiced by the IDF until now: To strike a direct and hard blow against the Hamas while increasing the deterrent strength of the IDF, in order to bring about an improved and more stable security situation for residents of Southern Israel over the long term.
Defense officials said some 10,000 troops, including tank, artillery and special operations units, were massed on the Gaza border and prepared to invade. They said top commanders were split over whether to send in ground forces, in part because such an operation could lead to heavy casualties but also because they believe Hamas already has been dealt a heavy blow.
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Over two dozen missiles pounded largely deserted fields on Gaza’s periphery, suggesting an attempt to destroy the network of tunnels and mine fields which constitute Hamas’ first line of defense against an Israeli ground assault.
They also targeted the last standing bridge connecting northern and southern Gaza, and offshore gunboats offshore fired on vehicles traveling along Gaza’s north-south coastal highway, another sign that the Israelis may be trying to halt the movement of weapons, supplies and militants ahead of a ground invasion.
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