Israel-Gaza conflict: Baby killed by tank as IDF begins ground offensive

An intense bombardment; the power is switched off; then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sends his troops in to tackle Hamas fighters on the ground

Jerusalem, Gaza, London

Israel has begun a major ground invasion of the Gaza Strip after a day of fierce fighting between its forces and Hamas that saw three more Palestinian children killed in an airstrike.

During a period of unusually intense shelling, the lights went out across parts of Gaza as the power was cut and the skyline was then lit by what appeared to be flares fired ahead of the assault.

Heavy fighting was reported to be taking place in the north of the Strip, in the Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya areas and also in Khan Younis and Rafah. Artillery fire, believed to be mortar and howitzer, was coming from the north intermittently, with rockets from Gaza arcing towards Israel.

Israeli media reported the loud rumblings of Israeli tanks and D9 bulldozers revving up their engines to cross the border. Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told the AFP news agency that Israeli tank fire had killed a five-month-old baby and another person in Rafah, southern Gaza, in the early hours of Friday local time.

One resident of Beit Lahiya said in a telephone call: “There are shots being heard, we are all staying inside. A lot of the area has no electricity at the moment.”

In messages on Twitter, another Gaza resident, Sarah Ali, described events following the end of the ceasefire at 3pm on Thursday local time.

“3:11 in Gaza & Israeli F16s are in the sky already. Must have been hard for terrorists to stop bombing people for 5 hours,” she said.

A few hours later, she wrote: “Now Israel is literally bombing #Gaza from everywhere: air, sea, and land. Terrifying sounds across the Strip. Sound of gunboat shelling is the most horrible. Not so loud but continuous & in barrage. Drones. Apaches & warships. Tanks on the outskirts of east & north Gaza. Families stuck with injuries. This is a war zone.”

Dr Basman Ashi, director of al-Wafa hospital in Gaza, said as the invasion began that there had been non-stop shelling of the area for 30 minutes. “They are destroying the hospital,” he told ABC News. He said he received a call, presumably from the Israeli military, warning him to leave. “Why don’t you think about your family, why don’t you leave, we’re going to destroy the hospital,” the caller said.

But Dr Alashi said there were 17 patients who were too unwell to be moved. “All of them will die, I have no way to take them out,” he said. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, said the troops had been sent in to destroy tunnels from Gaza to Israel used by Palestinian militants and would remain until their mission was accomplished. “The Prime Minister and the Defence Minister have ordered the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] to begin a ground operation in order to damage the terror tunnels constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory,” his office said in a statement.

An Israeli missile hits Palestinian buildings in Gaza City An Israeli missile hits Palestinian buildings in Gaza City (Getty Images)
“Such a tunnel was used earlier this morning by Hamas terrorists to enter Israeli territory, with intent to cause massive harm to Israeli civilians. The IDF successfully thwarted this attempt.”

The IDF said it was calling up some 18,000 reserve soldiers after the government gave its approval.

Asked if this showed Israel was preparing for prolonged fighting, Mark Regev, the Israeli prime minister’s chief spokesman, told Sky News: “We have to be prepared for any eventuality. We don’t under-estimate Hamas’ power… Hamas is a formidable military machine.”

In messages on Twitter, the IDF sought to rally popular support for the invasion.

One tweet showed an Israeli soldier having camouflage paint applied to his face. “From the Field: Our soldiers preparing to enter Gaza. The whole nation stands behind them,” the message said.

Another said: “We have hit Hamas hard, and we will continue to hit Hamas hard.”

This morning, about 13 Palestinians attempted to infiltrate Israel through a “Hamas terror tunnel”, according to an Israeli army spokeswoman. The tunnel extended from the south of the Gaza Strip to Kibbutz Sufa in southern Israel, according to the army. Israeli troops discovered the infiltration attempt and an airstrike killed at least one militant, the spokeswoman added.

An Israeli missile strikes in Gaza City An Israeli missile strikes in Gaza City (Getty Images)
The IDF also said it had intercepted a drone flying over the city of Ashkelon, shooting it down with a Patriot missile. Mr Netanyahu’s statement said the decision to invade was taken after Hamas rejected a ceasefire plan proposed by Egypt and then fired rockets into Israel.

“In light of Hamas’ unending criminal attacks, and its dangerous incursions into Israeli territory, Israel is forced to defend its citizens,” it added. “Operation Protective Edge will continue until it achieves its objective – to restore quiet and safety to Israelis for a long time to come, while significantly harming the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.”

Lt Col Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said the soldiers were going to be “striking the infrastructure... striking the operatives in order to safeguard the civilians of the state of Israel”.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Justice Minister, said in a statement she had backed the invasion with “a heavy heart, but wholeheartedly”.

She expressed anxiety for her country’s soldiers but also “love and confidence in their strength”.

Hamas said the ground invasion would have serious repercussions. “It does not scare the Hamas leaders or the Palestinian people,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “We warn Netanyahu of the dreadful consequences of such a foolish act.”

Palestinian health officials say 233 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air and naval strikes during 10 days of conflict. One Israeli civilian has been killed by fire from Gaza. The Israeli military says Gaza militants have fired more than 1,300 rockets into Israel.

Israel last carried out a major ground offensive in Gaza in January 2009.

Israeli soldiers stand near the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip Israeli soldiers stand near the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip (Getty Images)
Earlier in the day, both sides had observed a five-hour ceasefire as Egypt made intensive efforts to end the fighting and there were suggestions that a new ceasefire would be held today. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon had said he was “encouraged” by the contacts for a ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Israel came under sharp criticism over its Gaza bombardments from the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Speaking on LBC radio, Mr Clegg said the Israeli response to rocket fire “appears to be deliberately disproportionate. It is now amounting to a disproportionate form of collective punishment. It is leading to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza which is just unacceptable”.

The US today called on Israel to do more to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties after four children were killed on a beach in the Gaza Strip. However, today saw three more children killed, apparently when they were feeding pigeons.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reasserted Washington’s condemnation of Hamas’s “indiscriminate rocket attacks” targeting Israeli civilians and affirmed US support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

But she added: “We continue to urge all parties to do all they can to protect civilians. We have been heart-broken by the high civilian death toll in Gaza.”

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
tv

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
John Moore inspired this Coca Cola Christmas advert
people

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Jamie Oliver’s version of Jollof rice led thousands of people to post angry comments on his website
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film

Review: Mike Leigh's biopic is a rambling, rich character study

Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
film
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary Teacher Great Yarmouth

£115 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad are currently work...

Teaching Assistant to work with Autistic students

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

Special Needs Learning Support Assistant

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leicester ...

PMLD Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Randstad Education Leiceste...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes