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Israel deepens push to destroy Hamas tunnels

By PA Reporter

Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels yesterday as the Palestinian death toll from the ground offensive passed 20.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had ordered the military to prepare for a "significant expansion" of the operation, as troops fired volleys of tank shells and clashed with Palestinian fighters in a bid to weaken the enclave's Hamas rulers.

Israel launched the operation – its first major ground offensive in Gaza in over five years – after a 10-day campaign of more than 2,000 air strikes against Gaza that had failed to halt relentless Hamas rocket fire on Israeli cities.

"It is not possible to deal with tunnels only from the air. It needs to be done also from the ground," Mr Netanyahu said. "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."

Throughout the night, the thud of tank shells echoed across Gaza. Several explosions from Israeli missile strikes shook high-rise buildings in central Gaza City, and pillars of smoke could be seen from the Israeli side of the border.

At Gaza's main Shifa Hospital, casualties quickly began arriving, including several members of the same family wounded by shrapnel from tank shells. Among those hurt were a toddler and a boy of primary school age, their bodies pocked by small bloody wounds.

"The ground offensive does not scare us and we pledge to drown the occupation army in Gaza mud," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

* Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for militant rocket attacks amounts to a "deliberately disproportionate form of collective punishment", Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said.

Mr Clegg urged the Israeli government to stop military strikes on the densely-populated Palestinian enclave.

Israel and Gaza's Hamas leadership agreed a five-hour humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow Palestinian families to restock on food, water and other necessities.

Speaking on LBC radio, Mr Clegg urged both sides to build on the ceasefire to prevent a continuation of what he described as "unimaginable human suffering" in Gaza.

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