Belfast Telegraph

Monday 30 March 2015

Israeli forces move into Gaza Strip

Smoke rises after Israeli missile strikes hit the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) - PEOPLE MAY FIND SOME OF THESE IMAGES DISTRESSING
Smoke rises after Israeli missile strikes hit the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Adel Hana) - PEOPLE MAY FIND SOME OF THESE IMAGES DISTRESSING
Palestinians mourn over the lifeless bodies of four boys from the same extended Bakr family, covered with yellow flags of Fatah movement, in the mosque during their funeral in Gaza City, Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
The bodies of Palestinians, killed in various Israeli airstrikes in the Rafah area, southern Gaza Strip, lie in the Rafah hospital morgue's cold storage, Wednesday, July 16, 2014.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A Palestinian mourner carries the body of Ibrahim Ramadan Abu Daga, 10, killed while in a vehicle hit by a Israeli missile strike in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday, July 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
YAHUD MONOSON, ISRAEL - JULY 16: People mourn during the funeral of Dror Khenin at a cemetary on July 16, 2014 in Yahud Monoson, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
YAHUD MONOSON, ISRAEL - JULY 16: People mourn during the funeral of Dror Khenin at a cemetary on July 16, 2014 in Yahud Monoson, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
YAHUD MONOSON, ISRAEL - JULY 16: People mourn during the funeral of Dror Khenin at a cemetary on July 16, 2014 in Yahud Monoson, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 16: The Iron Dome air-defense system fires to intercept a rocket over the city of Ashdod on July 16, 2014 in Ashdod,Israel.(Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 16: Debris remains after a rocket from Gaza directly hit a house in the city of Ashdod on July 16, 2014, Israel. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 16: Debris remains after a rocket from Gaza directly hit a house in the city of Ashdod on July 16, 2014, Israel. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
A Palestinian talks on a mobile phone as he walks on the rubble of a damaged house following an overnight Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A Palestinian walks on the rubble from a damaged house following an overnight Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Activist Phil McCullagh holds a sign reading "Hope" in Arabic as crowds attend a white line picket on the Falls Road in Belfast organized by the Belfast Friends of Palestine in opposition to the Israeli Bombing of Gaza. Niall Carson/PA Wire
Crowds attend a white line picket on the Falls Road in Belfast organized by the Belfast Friends of Palestine in opposition to the Israeli Bombing of Gaza. Niall Carson/PA Wire
A Thai-Muslim activist puts a sticker on her face during a rally outside the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Several hundreds of activists took part in the rally to show solidarity for Palestine against Israel's attacks on Gaza. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)
A Thai-Muslim girl waves a small Palestinian flag as her parents attend a rally outside the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Several hundreds of activists took part in the rally to show solidarity for Palestine against Israel's attacks on Gaza. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)
Thai-Muslim activists hold up banners during a rally outside the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Several hundreds of activists took part in the rally to show solidarity for Palestine against Israel's attacks on Gaza. (AP Photo/Apichart Weerawong)
Filipino Muslims pause for a 15-minute prayer to pay their respects to Palestinian people who were killed in the Israeli air strikes in Gaza, during a rally outside the Israeli Embassy at suburban Taguig city, east of Manila, Philippines Tuesday, July 15, 2014. On Tuesday, Egypt proposes temporary ceasefire to allow for talks which both sides considering it. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
An Israeli soldiers walks by a military vehicle near the Israel Gaza Border, early Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The Israeli Cabinet has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire to end a week of conflict with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has killed 185 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire. No Israelis have been killed as a result of Hamas rocket launches. A senior Hamas official says the Palestinian militant group rejects an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldier sleep beside a military vehicle near the Israel Gaza Border, early Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The Israeli Cabinet has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire to end a week of conflict with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has killed 185 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire. No Israelis have been killed as a result of Hamas rocket launches. A senior Hamas official says the Palestinian militant group rejects an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers work on their tanks near the Israel Gaza Border, early Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The Israeli Cabinet has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire to end a week of conflict with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has killed 185 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire. No Israelis have been killed as a result of Hamas rocket launches. A senior Hamas official says the Palestinian militant group rejects an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli soldiers wait atop their military vehicle near the Israel Gaza Border, early Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The Israeli Cabinet has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire to end a week of conflict with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has killed 185 Palestinians and exposed millions of Israelis to Hamas rocket fire. No Israelis have been killed as a result of Hamas rocket launches. A senior Hamas official says the Palestinian militant group rejects an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire with Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A Palestinian inspects the rubble from a damaged house following an overnight Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead, and both sides said they were seriously considering the proposal. The late-night offer by Egypt marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
A Palestinian looks at the damage to a house following an overnight Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead, and both sides said they were seriously considering the proposal. The late-night offer by Egypt marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead, and both sides said they were seriously considering the proposal.The late-night offer by Egypt marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead, and both sides said they were seriously considering the proposal.The late-night offer by Egypt marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. Egypt presented a cease-fire plan Monday to end a week of heavy fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip that has left at least 185 people dead, and both sides said they were seriously considering the proposal.The late-night offer by Egypt marked the first sign of a breakthrough in international efforts to end the conflict. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
Former British Prime Minister and Mideast Envoy Tony Blair, gestures as he speaks during joint statements with Israel's President Shimon Peres at the President's residence in Jerusalem, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. The Israeli military says Gaza militants have fired three rockets that caused no casualties or damage near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, since the deadline passed for the start of a cease-fire proposed by Egypt. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Israelis and tourists watch the sky on the beach during a rocket attack fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip on July 15, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.(Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Israelis and tourists watch the sky on the beach during a rocket attack fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip on July 15, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.(Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Israelis relax on the beach on July 15, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
SDEROT, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Limes hang from a lime tree covered in dust after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard of a home on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Homefront Command member helmets sit while they clean up rubble from a home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: A Homefront Command member clears shattered glass from a frame after a Hamas rocket landed across the street on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Homefront Command members clean up rubble from a home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Officials stand around a home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Women look at their neighbor's home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: A woman inspects rubble from a home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: A man inspects rubble from a home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Homefront Command members clean up rubble from a home after a Hamas rocket landed in the front yard on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: A crater from a Hamas rocket is seen in the front yard of a home on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
ASHDOD, ISRAEL - JULY 15: A man inspects a shattered car window caused by a Hamas rocket on July 15, 2014 in Ashdod, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM , ISRAEL - JULY 14: Isreali citizens of the south watching the meeting of President Shimon Peres with International Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair during a press conference on July 15, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. .As operation 'Protective Edge' enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JULY 15: International Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair seen during a press conference with Isreali President Shimon Peres on July 15, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. . As operation 'Protective Edge' enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Isreali President Shimon Peres ( R ) seen during a meeting with International Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair ( L ) during a press conference on July 15, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. . As operation 'Protective Edge' enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***
SDEROT, ISRAEL - JULY 15: An Israeli soldier stands on top of an armored personnel carrier near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 15, 2014 near Sderot, Israel. As operation 'Protective Edge" enters it's eighth day of airstrikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) across the Gaza Strip, Egypt has this morning tabled a ceasefire agreement proposing a halting of fighting starting at 9am. Once violence has ceased, the proposal calls for Israel to open a border crossing into Gaza to allow the movement of goods and people. Israel has accepted the Egyptian proposal for a truce, however it is thought Hamas has rejected the deal. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
SDEROT, ISRAEL - JULY 15: Israeli soldiers sleep next to armored personnel carriers near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 15, 2014 near Sderot, Israel. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Left wing Israelis take part in a protest against Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Left wing Israelis take part in a protest against Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Left wing Israelis take part in a protest against Israel's military operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
SDEROT, ISRAEL - JULY 14: Israelis look for outgoing rocket fire from Gaza and wait for Israeli airstrikes from a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Sderot, Israel. 'Protective Edge' has entered a seventh day as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continue to carry out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip with reports suggesting over 166 people have been killed, the majority of whom are civilians. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Right wing Israelis demostrate in support of Israel's operration in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Right wing Israelis demonstrate in support of Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Right wing Israelis demonstrate in support of Israel's oprration in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
A right wing Israeli holds an Israeli flag during a demonstration in support of Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Right wing Israelis demonstrate in support of Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Right wing Israelis demonstrate in support of Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
Right wing Israelis demonstrate in support of Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's operation 'Protective Edge' is in its seventh day with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out massive airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. Reports say at least 170 people have been killed in Gaza, with the majority being civilians. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

Thousands of Israeli soldiers have invaded the Gaza Strip escalating a 10-day military operation to try to destroy Hamas' weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory's border with Israel.

It was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years and came after Egyptian-led efforts to broker a ceasefire failed.

Earlier, 13 Hamas militants tried to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel under the Gaza-Israel border, but were stopped by an Israeli strike at the mouth of the tunnel.

The military said the operation was open-ended and would be carried out on several fronts in the coastal strip.

"Our forces, large ground forces accompanied by massive air force support, naval forces and intelligence, are taking over targets in Gaza, operating against tunnels and terror activists and infrastructure," Israel's chief military spokesman Brigadier General Motti Almoz said.

He called on Gaza residents to evacuate areas where the military is operating, warning the "military is operating there with very great force".

Thousands of soldiers backed by tanks and huge DC9 bulldozers entered the Hamas-ruled territory after nightfall, security officials and Israeli media said.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel "will pay dearly" for the assault. "Hamas is ready for a confrontation," he said.

A Gaza security official reported heavy Israeli tank shelling along Gaza's border areas with Israel since 8 p.m. Thursday.

"All border areas are under fire. There is a tank shell every minute," he said. "There is also fire from the sea toward police checkpoints."

Thousands of Israeli soldiers had massed on the border with Gaza in recent days, waiting for the order to go in. Israel had called up 48,000 reserve soldiers and Lt Col Peter Lerner, another Israeli military spokesman, said more could be called up.

The ground operation followed a brief truce earlier in which Israel held fire to allow Gazans to stock up on food and other necessities after being largely holed up at home since the conflict began last month.

Since July 8, Israeli strikes have hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and Hamas have launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the army to go ahead after Hamas rejected an Egyptian ceasefire plan earlier in the week and after Hamas militants tried to infiltrate into Israel through a tunnel from Gaza.

"In light of the despicable and relentless aggression by Hamas and the dangerous infiltration into Israel, Israel is obliged to protect its citizens," the statement said.

Israel last carried out a major ground offensive in Gaza in January 2009. The ground operation came toward the end of a three-week military campaign.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

Latest News

Latest Sport

Latest Showbiz