By William Booth, Sudarsan Raghavan and Ruth Eglash July 17 at 8:52 PM
GAZA CITY — Israeli forces backed by artillery barrages and airstrikes launched a major ground offensive into Gaza late Thursday, marking a dramatic escalation of the 10-day-old conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
Spokesmen for the Israel Defense Forces said the goal of the offensive was limited: to destroy tunnels used by the militants to infiltrate into Israel. “This requires precise operations,” their statement said. Among the troops moving in were engineering units with armored bulldozers.
“We have hit Hamas hard and we will continue to hit Hamas hard,” Israel’s military said in a tweet shortly after thousands of Israeli soldiers entered Gaza.
It was Israel’s first ground incursion into Gaza since January 2009, when it engaged in a three-week battle with Hamas that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Thursday’s operation came hours after diplomatic efforts in Cairo to negotiate a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas failed.
The assault creates significant challenges and risks for Israel. Casualties could soar in a conflict that, as of Thursday, had claimed more than 200 Palestinian lives and left one Israeli dead. Israeli soldiers also face the prospect of a guerrilla war in Gaza’s densely populated territory.
Jews killing Moslems. My skin crawls, if I go near either a Jew or a Moslem. They are both abhorrent and an abomination. This is a good thing. Let the Jews and Moslems exterminate each other. An honest white man has no side in this Semitic fight.