GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Thousands of Israeli soldiers invaded the Gaza Strip on Thursday, escalating a 10-day military operation to try to destroy Hamas’ weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory’s border with Israel.
It was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years and came after Egyptian-led efforts to broker a cease-fire failed. Earlier Thursday, 13 Hamas militants tried to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel under the Gaza-Israel border, but were stopped by an Israeli strike at the mouth of the tunnel.
The military said the operation was open-ended and would be carried out on several fronts in the coastal strip.
“Our forces, large ground forces accompanied by massive air force support, naval forces and intelligence, are taking over targets in Gaza, operating against tunnels and terror activists and infrastructure,” Israel’s chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz said.
He called on Gaza residents to evacuate areas where the military is operating, warning the “military is operating there with very great force.”
Thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and huge DC9 bulldozers entered the Hamas-ruled territory after 10 p.m. Thursday, security officials and Israeli media said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel “will pay dearly” for the assault. “Hamas is ready for a confrontation,” he said.
An official in the Gaza security operations room reported heavy Israeli tank shelling along Gaza’s border areas with Israel since 8 p.m. Thursday.
“All border areas are under fire. There is a tank shell every minute,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with briefing regulations. “There is also fire from the sea toward police checkpoints.”
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