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Israel Sends Ground Forces Into Gaza Strip

Israeli troops prepare to mobilize on Saturday on the Gaza/Israel border.
Uriel Sinai
/
Getty Images
Israeli troops prepare to mobilize on Saturday on the Gaza/Israel border.
Israeli artillery fire shells into Gaza on Saturday.
Uriel Sinai
/
Getty Images
Israeli artillery fire shells into Gaza on Saturday.

Israel has begun a ground operation inside the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip involving a substantial number of troops backed by tanks and helicopters.

Israeli troops began moving into Gaza shortly after 8 p.m. local time on Saturday. The operation penetrated the territory at several points and was designed to seize areas of north Gaza being used to launch rockets against Israel, Israeli military officials said.

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The aim of the operation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in a live television broadcast, is to end Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and return southern Israel to a state of calm. It won't be short or easy, Barak said.

Ismail Radwan of Hamas vowed fierce resistance and to exact a high price, saying to the Israelis, "Gaza will not be a picnic. ... Gaza will be a graveyard for you."

Earlier, Israeli troops unleashed an intense artillery barrage to destroy explosives and mines in the areas they planned to seize. The ground operation came after an eight-day air campaign that failed to stop Palestinian rocket attacks.

Civilian witnesses hunkered down in Beit Hanoun, the northernmost Palestinian town in the Gaza Strip, said fierce clashes were underway between militants and Israeli forces. Both sides claimed to have inflicted casualties on the other.

Before the ground operation began, defense officials said around 10,000 soldiers massed along the border in recent days.

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The first week of fighting in the Gaza Strip had claimed more than 400 Palestinians lives, while four Israelis were killed by rocket fire.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said U.S. officials have been in regular contact with the Israelis as well as officials from countries in the region and Europe.

"We continue to make clear to them our concerns for civilians, as well as the humanitarian situation," Johndroe said.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled emergency consultations Saturday night on the escalation in Gaza. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged key world leaders to intensify efforts to achieve an immediate truce including international monitors to enforce a truce and possibly to protect Palestinian civilians.

From NPR and wire reports.

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