Ten days into Operation Protective Edge, the IDF has launched a ground invasion in the Gaza strip, significantly escalating a conflict that has already killed more than 229 Palestinians — mostly civilians — and one Israeli civilian.
Israeli officials announced the latest escalation on Thursday evening, saying that "a new phase of Operation Protective Edge has begun."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office also confirmed that ground forces had begun to move into the territory to destroy tunnels leading into Israel.
"Israel must act to defend its citizens," Netanyahu's office said in a statement. "The operation will continue until its goals are reached: To bring quiet to the citizens of Israel for a long period of time, and to seriously harm Hamas and other terrorist organizations' infrastructure in the Gaza Strip."
The IDF also announced that it will call up an additional 18,000 reservists as it expands its operation in Gaza.
Israel had resumed airstrikes over Gaza in the last several hours, following a brief UN-sponsored "humanitarian window" meant to allow residents to restock on food and essential supplies. Several people — including three children — had been killed earlier on Thursday. Some reports put the number of people killed since the shelling resumed at 50.
Gaza residents and foreign journalists there had reported intensifying shelling in the last hours, coming from both the sea and the air. Several shared images of the shelling on social media. Across the border, crowds of Israelis gathered to watch and cheer.
Meanwhile Israeli officials warned several journalists to evacuate their beachfront hotels, while telling others not to leave the Al Deira Hotel where many of them are staying, not far from the beach where four children were killed by shelling on Wednesday.
Hamas condemned the invasion, reportedly calling it a "serious escalation" for which Israel "would pay dearly." But Israeli officials, backed by some US supporters, put the blame for the escalation squarely on Hamas, which has continued to fire rockets into Israel.
Among them was former US President Bill Clinton, who told India's NDTV that escalating the conflict was part of Hamas's "crass strategy":
Hamas was perfectly well aware of what would happen if they started raining rockets into Israel. They fired 1,000 and they have a strategy designed to force Israel to kill their own civilians so that the rest of the world will condemn them.
They (Israel) know when Hamas attacks them that Hamas has set up a situation which politically it can’t lose, because they (Israelis) can say ‘well if I attack them back they always hide behind civilians and I’ll kill civilians, and if I don’t we’ll look like fools letting somebody shoot a thousand rockets at us and not responding.
In the short and medium term Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage by forcing (Israel) to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas. But it’s a crass strategy that takes all of our eyes off the real objective which is a peace that gets Israel security and recognition and a peace that gets the Palestinians their state.
Speculations of an imminent invasion had flared up over the last several days — despite calls from human rights groups to deescalate the situation.
"Gazans have nowhere to run," Laila El-Haddad, a blogger from Gaza City, said ahead as fears of an approaching invasion spread. "Closed in by sea, land and air, and with round-the-clock power outages, Gaza has become by all accounts the world’s largest mass internment camp."
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter:@alicesperi