At around 9:40 p.m. on the ninth day of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) announced it had launched a ground operation in the Gaza Strip.
According to the IDF, their “tanks, artillery, engineers and field intelligence,” led by their Southern Command, have entered Gaza and will target tunnels and Hamas’ alleged underground operations.
We know that Hamas terrorists are operating underground, and that's where we will meet them.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 17, 2014
Our infantry, tanks, artillery, engineers & field intelligence are entering Gaza supported by the Air Force, Navy & other security agencies.
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 17, 2014
In a statement released Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reinforced the IDF’s announcement, saying the ground operation’s goal is to “damage the underground terror tunnels constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory.”
Just hours after the announcement, the IDF claims it has already hit 11 targets. The Israeli cabinet has authorized the draft of 18,000 more reservists.
In Gaza, casualty numbers are rising. According to the Agence France-Press, tank fire has killed two people, including a baby. Mahmoud Daher, head of the World Health Organization Gaza Office, previously told the International Business Times that 10 people have died since the end of the "humanitarian cease-fire." Seven are children.
Foreign correspondents have been evacuated from their hotels, and many reports say cell phone service and electricity has been cut off. Satellite phones are still working.
The IDF has been systematically asking residents in certain Gaza neighborhoods to leave their homes for the last few days. The problem is that there are very few places for Gazans to hide from Israeli fire.
Bait Hanoun resident to CNN now: The Israelis "have been telling us to leave. Where our we supposed to go? The #Gaza Sheraton?
— benwedeman (@bencnn) July 17, 2014
Below is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s full statement on the ground invasion, via Haazetz:
"The prime minister and the defense minister have ordered the IDF to begin a ground operation in order to damage the underground terror tunnels constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory.
"Such a tunnel was used earlier this morning by Hamas terrorists to enter Israeli territory, with intent to cause massive harm to Israeli civilians.
"The IDF successfully thwarted this attempt at terrorism as well. The prime minister and the defense minister have ordered the IDF to make preparations for expanding the ground operation. The order to act tonight has been approved by the security cabinet, after Israel agreed to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal which Hamas rejected and proceeded to fire rockets at Israel. Nor did Hamas uphold the humanitarian cease-fire initiated by the UN, continuing to fire at Israel instead.
"In light of Hamas' unending criminal attacks, and its dangerous incursions into Israeli territory, Israel is forced to defend its citizens. Operation Protective Edge will continue until it achieves its objective – to restore quiet and safety to Israelis for a long time to come, while significantly harming the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip."
Meanwhile, the IDF Spokesperson's Unit reported that a large contingent of IDF ground forces have just begun an incursion focused at destroying terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.
"The IDF has taken the next step in escalating 'Operation Protective Edge,' by including IDF infantry, tanks, engineering, artillery and intelligence units in the ongoing operation in the Gaza Strip, alongside the air force, Shin Bet, and other security forces currently working under the directions of the IDF Southern Command.
"The IDF's action is the result of a decision made by the political leaders, in accordance with IDF operational plans, and will continue as the IDF General Staff continues to receive briefings and assess the situation. The forces currently involved in the operation are in peak condition, after a period of intensified training and thorough preparation."
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit stated that at this point, the operation is continuing to add to the achievements already made in severely damaging Hamas, and creating a safer reality for Israelis.
"The IDF and the Home Front Command have taken the necessary steps in preparing the relevant areas, and residents in those areas are asked to heed all instructions as relayed by the media," the statement said.