At 10 p.m. Israel time on Thursday night, the IDF launched a ground operation into Gaza, after receiving the go-ahead from the government. The operation covers the entire Gaza Strip from the northern section to the southern part that borders on Egypt. The decision to begin a ground offensive was taken after it became clear that Hamas has no intentions of agreeing to a ceasefire under the terms Egypt had proposed.
GSS head Yoram Cohen visited Cairo yesterday, met with the Egyptian mediators, who met concurrently, in other rooms, with Hamas officials. Hamas received the Egyptian proposal and informed the Egyptians that the terms were unacceptable.
On Thursday, the terrorists ramped up their attempts to carry out a mass scale terror attack using explosive rigged tunnels. This brought Israel to the conclusion that there is no one to speak to in Hamas, and that there is no choice other than to expand the operation to include a ground offensive in an effort to bring Hamas to its knees.
The ground invasion was preceded by three hours of intensive airstrikes and artillery fire from outside the Gaza Border and the sea, towards all parts of the Gaza Strip. The cabinet also approved the call up of 18,000 more reserve soldiers who will be included in the operation. The alert level was raised all over the country, and at all other borders — especially those with Lebanon and Syria.
In an official statement, the Prime Minister’s office said Thursday night that the prime minister and defense minister had instructed the IDF to launch the ground operation in order to target the terror tunnels that penetrate from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Before dawn Thursday, a group of more than ten terrorists tried to penetrate into Israel through a tunnel to conduct a terror attack against Israeli civilians.
The orders to launch the offensive were approved by the cabinet after Israel agreed to the Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire, while Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets into Israel. The official statement notes that Hamas also did not uphold the humanitarian ceasefire initiated by the United Nations, and continued to fire on Israel during the pause in the fighting. “In light of the constant, brutal aggression of Hamas, and the dangerous infiltration into Israel, Israel has to act to protect its civilians. Operation Protective Edge will proceed until the goals are met — to restore peace and quiet to Israeli civilians for the long term, while significantly damaging terror infrastructure belonging to Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza,” the statement said.
Already during the first few hours of the ground operation, there were clashes with terrorists, primarily in the northern Gaza Strip, but the troops forged on towards their goals.
IDF spokesman Motty Almoz told Hamodia Thursday night that the large number of forces that were concentrated right near the Gaza border have moved and have crossed the border fence in order to move into the next stage of Operation Protective Edge, and are taking control of parts of the strip. This is a focused operation to ground infrastructure used by the terrorists. The operation will expand based on the developments, Almoz stressed.
Over the past few days, the forces have been trained, and they are moving forward in accordance with the plan that was drafted and the targets that have been set. Hamas is trying in every way to create a different picture of its real situation, but we will continue to attack whatever targets are necessary in order to strike at the terrorists, he declared.
Prior to the offensive Thursday night, a tremendous miracle took place on the Gaza border early Thursday morning.
Thursday morning, at 4:30 a.m. an effort by terrorists to infiltrate into Israel through a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa was thwarted. All 13 terrorists were discerned by the IDF scout as they penetrated into Israeli territory, and forces were alerted to attack the terrorists and neutralize the threat. Several strikes were launched at the enemy and, baruch Hashem, none of the Israeli soldiers were harmed.
At the entrance to the tunnel, a large cache of weapons was found, including anti-tank RPGs, hundreds of bullets for light weapons, grenades and bulletproof vests. Apparently the terrorist planned to execute a kidnapping in addition to a killing rampage in the nearby towns.
Both ground and air forces were involved in neutralizing the terrorists. IDF spokesman Motty Almoz addressed the thwarted attack and said, “There are intelligence warnings that we received in conjunction with the GSS about a lot of attempts along the entire frontier line. At 4:30 a.m. Hamas wanted to surprise us but ended up being surprised. The attack was supposed to be carried out in the Chulit and Sufa areas. This would have been the type of attack Hamas is so desperate to have broadcast over the past few weeks. This was a tremendous success for the IDF that its soldiers were not harmed, b’chasdei Shamayim,” he noted.
Hamodia’s military correspondent notes that terrorists were discovered the minute they emerged from the tunnel, whose exit was deep into Kibbutz Sufa. The IDF assessment is that it is a huge tunnel that is several kilometers long. It was bombed from the air two minutes after the infiltration was discovered, but it is not clear what happened to the terrorists. The assumption is that some of them managed to get back to Gaza while others were killed.
Several hours later, the IDF sent a scout dog into the tunnel and there was an explosio inside, which killed the dog. The military handler of the dog, who waited at the entrance to the tunnel, was slightly injured. There were no other injuries.
As darkness fell Thursday night, the IDF intensified its airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, using both aircraft and helicopters, and augmented with heavy artillery and ships. The strikes were in response to the nonstop rocket fire to Israel, and after the security cabinet decided to implement a ceasefire earlier in the week. From 3 o’clock Thursday afternoon until midnight, nearly 140 rockets were fired into Israel, some of them to the center of the country.
Since the beginning of Protective Edge, more than 1,980 terror targets have been destroyed, among them 940 launchers and 180 houses that were used for terror activity. In addition, 211 attacks were carried out on tunnels throughout the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the operation, Iron Dome has shot down more than 165 missiles headed for Israeli population centers. At about 8:30 Thursday night, the air force struck down a drone that was detected infiltrating into Israeli airspace. It was shot down by the patriot missile, landing in an open area outside of Ashkelon.