Israel ramps up ground operation in Gaza as rockets fall in Israel

A fresh, massive volley of rockets was aimed at central Israel from the Gaza Strip on July 18, even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the Israel Defense Forces is prepared to substantially expand its ground operation against Hamas.

Netanyahu made the announcement during a cabinet meeting held at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“My instructions, and those of the defense minister, to the IDF, with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office quoted him as telling the Cabinet.

An Israeli soldier directs a Merkava tank at an army deployment area near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on July 17. photo/jta-flash90-gili yaari

The IDF, which has been carrying out strikes in Gaza since the July 8 launch of Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, began ground operations in Gaza on July 17 after a failed attempt by 13 militants to penetrate Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa, which is near the border. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the IDF was targeting tunnels used by terrorists to launch attacks inside Israel.

The ground incursion into Gaza began July 17 at 10:30 p.m. Israel time. Government officials said that the move was phase two in Operation Protective Edge, now in its 11th day, aimed at destroying rocket fire on Israeli communities and Hamas’ system of underground tunnels.

In the first hours of battle, an IDF soldier was killed and five other soldiers sustained light to moderate wounds. Palestinian officials say that at least 31 Gazans were killed the first day of the ground operation, including three children. The fallen soldier was identified as Eitan Barak, 20, from Herzliya.

Rockets were fired across the cental area at around 6 p.m. July 18, with sirens sounding in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Or Yehuda, Kfar Saba, Hod Hasharon, Ganei Tikva, Yehud and Kiryat Ono.

Moments later, sirens also sounded in Ashdod and the surrounding area.

Just before Shabbat, rockets continued to hit a number of southern communities such as Be’er Sheva, Ofakim and Eshkol, after the morning hours saw a number of salvos fired at Israel.

Iron Dome shot down a rocket over the city of Netivot at about 5pm and another at approximately 5:25pm.

At around 2:30 p.m., Iron Dome intercepted a number of rockets fired at the Be’er Sheva region, with one falling in an open area; another rocket fell in Sdot Negev Regional Council and later near Sderot.

At around 1:40 p.m. rockets hit the Eshkol Regional Council, and again at 1 p.m, minutes after Iron Dome intercepted another rocket fired at the Merhavim Regional Council, both in southern Israel. A rocket also hit the southern community of Ofakim.

At around 10 a.m., at least seven rockets fired at the coastal city of Ashdod were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

At around 9 a.m. a rocket exploded near a Hof Ashkelon community and at 8 a.m., sirens roared in Dimona, home to Israel’s nuclear reactor, Be’er Sheva, Arad, Yeruham and other Negev communities.

Rockets continued to fall on Israel July 17 during an agreed five-hour U.N.-brokered humanitarian pause in fighting began at 10 am, with over 100 rockets fired since the humanitarian halt in fire ended and before the beginning of the IDF’s ground operation in the strip 12 hours later.

During skirmishes in the Gaza Strip the morning of July 18, Israeli soldiers uncovered 21 shafts leading to smuggling tunnels during Friday morning skirmishes in the Gaza Strip. Caches of weapons were found stored in some of the tunnels.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “The operation will continue for as long as necessary; it requires patience until the task is completed. We will expand the ground activity if necessary.”

More than 250 Palestinians, including some civilians, and two Israelis, a civilian and a soldier, have died in the recent conflagration, which began July 8 as Israel responded to increased rocket launches by Hamas from Gaza into Israel.

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Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.