Israeli tanks dig in at Gaza frontier as Palestinian toll tops 300
July 19 2014
Israeli tanks and bulldozers dug in across a mile-wide strip of Gaza’s eastern frontier on Saturday, and Palestinian officials said military strikes had killed more than 300 people, most of them civilians.
Israel sent in ground forces on Thursday after 10 days of air and naval barrages failed to stop rocket fire from Gaza.
The military said its engineers were concentrating on a buffer zone 2.5 km (1.5 mile) wide and were looking to destroy concealed rocket launch pads and tunnels dug by Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists after the last big flare-up of violence in 2012.
Hamas said its fighters used one such tunnel to slip into Israel on Saturday, inflicting casualties. The Israeli military confirmed the incident near central Gaza, saying it killed one militant, repelled the rest, and four soldiers were wounded.
Palestinians also launched at least 18 rockets into Israel on Saturday, killing a man and wounding four people, including two children, in a southern Bedouin Arab village, police said.
Gaza officials said that at least 325 Palestinians, including 70 children, have been killed in the 12-day conflict.
On Israel’s side, a soldier and two civilians have died.
"I live in fear expecting death. I no longer know what’s more difficult - to die or to await death," said Ali Mahmoud, a 40-year-old resident of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun from where from the Israeli ground action could be heard just 800 meters (yards) away.
Hostilities had escalated following the killing last month of three Jewish seminary students that Israel blames on Hamas. Hamas neither confirmed nor denied involvement. The apparent revenge murder of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem, for which Israel has charged three Jews, further fueled tensions.
Military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said 13 tunnels, at least one of them 30 meters (90 feet) deep, and 95 rocket launchers were found and destroyed in the Gaza sweep.
Searches were continuing what he described as an open-ended mission that had “severely impeded Hamas capabilities”.