Source: Al Jazeera
By: Gregg Carlstrom
Hamas says Israel will pay a “high price” as tanks seen entering Palestinian territory in major escalation of offensive.
Israeli tanks entered Gaza on Thursday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ground invasion, a major escalation in a ten-day offensive that has already killed more than 230 Palestinians.
Witnesses in Gaza reported heavy bombing from jets, warships and artillery stationed along the border, with much of the firing was directed at northern Gaza. Electricity was cut off across a large swathe of the strip, though it was unclear why.
A statement from Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon described the invasion as focused on destroying tunnels connecting Gaza to Israel.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said that the ground operation amounted to “stupidity” and that the Israeli army would “pay a high price”.
Sami Abu Zuhri, another spokesman for the group which controls Gaza, said: “It does not scare the Hamas leaders or the Palestinian people. We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor for the Palestinian peace negotiating team, said: “I think it’s high time that the Palestinian Authority go and sign on to the International Criminal Court and start charging Israel with war crimes. This isn’t the first time this has happened.”
“They [Israel] shouldn’t be allowed to behave like they are above the law, and treat Palestinians like they are beneath it.”
On Thursday morning, a group of gunmen had tried to enter southern Israel through a tunnel from Gaza, the army said eight of the 13 attackers were killed, and Hamas claimed responsibility for the operation.
It was the second such incident in the past ten days.
“[The operation] will deal significant damage to the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip,” the army said.
The escalation came not long after a five-hour “humanitarian ceasefire” requested by the United Nations, which gave residents a brief chance to venture outside before the bombardment resumed.
Both sides largely stopped firing, and people ventured out to markets, grocers, barbers and banks, which opened for the first time in more than a week.
At least 231 Palestinians have been killed so far, including 39 children, and more than 1,700 injured. One Israeli has been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.
Media reports on Thursday afternoon, attributed to Israeli officials, suggested that a ceasefire had been agreed and would take effect the next morning.
But diplomatic sources said that the parties were still meeting, and both sides have now denied the reports.