Israel sends commandos into Gaza after 50 die in air strikes

Published by The Daily Mail (17th July, 2014)

Israel sent ground forces into Gaza yesterday for the first time in its latest offensive, launching an amphibious assault with commandos and shelling the coastline from gunboats offshore.

As troops and tanks gathered at the border for a possible land offensive, the air force dropped leaflets telling tens of thousands of Palestinians to leave their homes in northern Gaza.

They warned that Israel intended to attack ‘terrorists and terror infrastructures’ and those failing to heed the threat were endangering their lives. Thousands of families fled, while hundreds more gathered in public spaces such as schools.

The ramping up of action in defiance of UN demands for a ceasefire came after the deadliest night of violence since the offensive began a week ago, with more than 50 Palestinians killed in air bombardments.

They included 17 members of one extended family, who died along with one other person when Israeli forces targetted police chief Tayseer al-Batsh in the Toufah area of Gaza City.

Batsh survived, one of almost 50 people injured. One local official said the house, belonging to the police chief’s cousin and located beside a mosque, was hit just after Ramadan prayers.

After six days of fighting, 166 Palestinians have been killed. Israel claims it is targetting only terrorists, but the UN says three-quarters of the dead were civilians. They include two disabled women, killed in an attack on a rehabilitation centre on Saturday.

A Palestinian woman and a girl aged 3 were among the latest air strike victims, according to Gaza’s ministry of health, which added that 30 children have now died.

No Israelis have been killed, although three have been seriously injured by missile strikes. Four marines were ‘lightly injured’ in yesterday’s gunfight as they attacked a site in northern Gaza that the army claimed was being used to launch long-range rockets.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas later confirmed there had been an exchange of fire, alleging its armed wing had prevented Israeli forces from landing. It showed no sign of heeding calls for a ceasefire, issuing a warning that they would attack Tel Aviv.

Sirens wailed in the Israeli city and at its airport, and missiles could be heard being destroyed by the ‘Iron Dome’ defence system, which intercepts incoming rockets. Some have broken through however, hitting Ashkelon, Hebron and Bethlehem yesterday. Houses have also previously been destroyed  in Be’er Sheva and a petrol station in the port city of Ashdod.

Israel insists the onslaught against Gaza – its third in just six years – is to end these rocket attacks from over the border. An army spokesman said yesterday militants have fired 808 in the past week, with 124 in the latest 24-hour burst. In response, Israel has made more than 1,320 air strikes.

Benjamin Netayahu, the country’s prime minister, warned his cabinet the operation ‘might take a long time’

An Israeli military official said ground forces were ready for action. ‘We have been training for this. We will exploit our ability the moment a decision is made to do so.’

In the area warned of imminent attack, home to about 100,000 people, some families fled on donkey carts overflowing while others grabbed taxis and shared cars with neighbours.

‘We had to run to save the lives of our children,’ said Salem Abu Halima, 25, a father of two, still in his pyjamas as he fled. He added that residents had also received phone calls ordering them to clear out. ‘What could we do?’

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