TOPLINE Israeli air and ground forces attacked Gaza Strip targets Thursday night, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to extract a “very heavy price” in response to rocket attacks from Hamas militants in the territory — but local news outlets say Israeli troops have not launched an actual ground invasion in Gaza yet.
Hamas — which controls Gaza — and other militant groups have fired hundreds of rockets toward Israeli population centers in recent days, and the Israeli Defense Force has responded with heavy airstrikes that toppled several Gaza Strip buildings, reportedly leading to over 100Palestinian deaths and at least seven Israeli deaths.
The IDF has massed thousands of troops near the Gaza border in preparation for a ground campaign, and both air and ground troops are “currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” the military said on Twitter early Friday morning, Israel time.
Some internationalmediaoutlets claimed IDF troops have already entered the territory, but its forces appear to be shelling the Gaza Strip from Israeli-controlled positions rather than carrying out a ground invasion in the territory, local and regional outlets like Israeli public broadcasterKan 11, the Times of Israel and Qatar-based al Jazeera reported.
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Israeli officials say they aren’t interested in an immediate ceasefire, instead promising to punish Hamas. “I said that we would extract a very heavy price from Hamas and the other terrorist organizations,” Netanyahu said Thursday night. “This operation will continue as long as necessary in order to restore the calm and security to the state of Israel.”
If Israeli troops ultimately enter the Gaza Strip, it would mark the country’s first major ground campaign in the territory in seven years. Israel pulled all troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, and Hamas — which most Western countries deem a terrorist group — took over the territory in the following year, but Israel and Hamas have periodically exchanged fire since then. During a bout of violence in 2014, the IDF made a rare ground incursion into Gaza with a stated mission of destroying the territory’s cross-border tunnels.
The latest hostilities between Israel and Hamas follow days of unrest and tension. Israeli police clashed with Palestinian protesters earlier this week at East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, and protesters and police faced off last week over planned evictions of several Palestinian families in part of East Jerusalem, an area annexed by Israel decades ago. Plus, violent street clashes have erupted in cities with large numbers of both Jewish and Arab Israelis.
The United States has called for de-escalation. Some Biden administration statements have been relatively muted, broadly defending Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning civilian violence. Meanwhile, the Pentagon said Thursday it has moved 120 U.S. troops out of Israel, and the U.S. State Department is telling Americans to reconsider traveling there.