Israeli ground troops joined its air force in the attack on the Gaza Strip early Friday, the military said in a statement.
Israel Defense Forces had tweeted that its troops were “currently attacking in the Gaza Strip.” But later, citing an internal miscommunication, it clarified that the troops were firing artillery from inside the Israeli border.
“I said we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement. “We are doing that, and we will continue to do that with heavy force.”
Gaza residents near the border with Israel confirmed to Reuters that they had seen no sign of Israeli ground forces inside the enclave, but they reported heavy artillery fire and dozens of airstrikes.
As the violence entered its fifth day, the U.N. Security Council announced it agreed to convene Sunday to discuss the situation, after plans to secure a meeting had been delayed by concerns from the United States.
The fighting, on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, has killed least 103 Palestinians, including at least 27 children and 11 women, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which added that 530 people have been wounded. Seven Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a 6-year-old boy.
The Israeli military said that three rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel Thursday but that they reached the Mediterranean Sea and caused no casualties.
On Thursday, Palestinian militant group Hamas launched rockets at Israeli neighborhoods, and Israel responded with more airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, as efforts to halt the escalating violence moved forward.
In response to Israel’s buildup of troops and tanks along the border, Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, adding that any invasion would be a chance “to increase our catch” of dead or captive soldiers, according to The Associated Press.
The deadly exchange of rocket fire and airstrikes, the biggest battle between the Palestinian militant group and Israeli forces since the 2014 war in Gaza, was sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.
The tensions have spilled over into the West Bank, where bloody street fights have broken out in several Arab-Jewish cities. Authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew in the central city of Lod, where at least one person was shot this week, while several hundred people in Lod and other cities have been arrested. A mob of right-wing Jewish residents in the town of Bat Yam brutally attacked an Arab motorist, beating him unconscious.
Global mediation efforts to end the fighting took a significant step forward Thursday when Egyptian security officials met with Hamas leaders in Gaza and with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, according to two Egyptian intelligence officials.
As word of the officials’ arrival spread, Hamas fired about 100 rockets toward south and central Israel.
U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday expressed his support for Israel’s right to defend itself, while saying he hoped the fighting would end “sooner than later.”
After U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Gantz, the Pentagon released a statement saying Austin informed Gantz of the Pentagon’s “ironclad support for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people.”
The statement said Austin “strongly condemned the launching of rockets by Hamas and other terrorist groups that targeted Israeli civilians” and “reiterated the importance of all involved parties to take steps to restore calm.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly condemned the Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians in a conversation with Netanyahu, declaring “Israel has the right to defend itself,” while the Palestinians must be afforded the right “to live in safety and security.” Blinken also called for de-escalation.
Blinken also said he instructed Hady Amr, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to leave immediately for the Middle East to urge Israeli and Palestinian officials to de-escalate.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday denounced the “indiscriminate” rocket launches from Gaza toward Israeli population centers while urging Israel to exercise “maximum restraint.”
German Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht said Wednesday that Germany is “strongly on the side of Israel” and added it “has the right to defend itself.”
Lambrecht also criticized recent antisemitic acts such as Israeli flag burnings near synagogues in Germany, saying they show “nothing but horrible disrespect for human dignity.”
During a conversation Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced support for the Palestinians.
Erdogan said the global community should “give Israel a strong and deterrent lesson” over its attacks on Palestinians, according to Turkey’s Presidential Communications Directorate.
The directorate said Erdogan suggested to Putin that the establishment of an international force to protect the Palestinians should be considered.
Source: Voice of America