July 19, 2014 in Nation/World

Israel says Gaza offensive could expand ‘significantly’

Ibrahim Barzak Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

An Israeli tank moves into position near the Israel-Gaza border Friday. Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday to destroy Hamas rocket launching sites and tunnels.
(Full-size photo)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday in a ground offensive that officials said could last up to two weeks as the prime minister ordered the military to prepare for a “significantly” wider campaign.

The assault raised risks of a bloodier conflict amid escalating Palestinian civilian casualties and the first Israeli military death – and brought questions of how far Israel will go to cripple Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

Officially, the goal remains to destroy a network of tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel and attack civilians. In its first day on the ground in Gaza, the military said it took up positions beyond the border, encountered little resistance from Hamas fighters and made steady progress in destroying the tunnels. Military officials said the quick work means that within a day or two, Israeli leaders may already have to decide whether to expand the operation.

With calls from Israeli hard-liners to completely crush Hamas, it remains unclear how far Israel will go in an operation that has already seen 299 Palestinians killed in 11 days of intense Israeli bombardment of the densely populated coastal strip, a fifth of them children.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to prepare for a “significant expansion” of the ground offensive.

“It is not possible to deal with tunnels only from the air. It needs to be done also from the ground,” he told a special Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv. “We chose to begin this operation after the other options were exhausted and with the understanding that without the operation, the price we will pay can be very high.”

Frustrated by Hamas’ refusal to accept an Egyptian-brokered truce agreement and the failure of a 10-day campaign of more than 2,000 airstrikes to halt relentless rocket fire on Israeli cities, Israel launched a ground offensive it had previously been reticent to undertake to further weaken Hamas militarily.

“It won’t end that quickly,” said Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Israel’s minister of public security. “Anything can happen. If we need to keep going, we will keep going. We won’t stop. We need quiet for the citizens of the south and the citizens of Israel.”

© Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


There are two comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email