The Israelis say they have fired more than 1,500 rockets into the Jewish state after five days of relentless bombardment of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and deployed ground forces to attack Palestinian militant groups.
The army said in a statement that “Israeli defense forces, air and ground forces, are currently attacking the Gaza Strip.” The scale of the Israeli attack was not immediately clear.
However, the deployment of Israeli troops in Palestinian territory would increase the significance of the five-day conflict and increase the likelihood of a full-scale Israeli offensive, the first since the conflict in 2014 killed 2,000 Palestinians and 722 Israelis.
Witnesses said artillery shells were heard inside the Gaza Strip shortly before the deployment of Israeli troops on IDF territory. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the militant group took control of the Gaza Strip in 2000.
Israel has been carrying out airstrikes against militants in Gaza for five days, killing 103 Palestinians, including 33 women and children, health officials in the strip said. A total of 560 people were injured.
Hamas continues to rescue rockets deep into Israel despite the bombing, and on Thursday Israeli authorities forced international flights from Tel Aviv to re-explode. Militants have killed seven Israelis this week, including an army soldier and a child.
Israel deployed additional troops near the Gaza border, including two infantry brigades and an armored force, and called in 9,000 additional reserves on Thursday.
Egyptian officials were trying to broker a ceasefire because they were not disappointed by the violence, a Western diplomat said. Haddy Amr, a top US State Department official on Israel and Palestine, was also in Israel as part. The Biden administration is trying to escalate the crisis.
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters Thursday that Washington was deeply engaged in continuing the situation. Russian President Vladimir Putin and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called for an end to the fighting on Thursday. But Western diplomats said Israel had previously rejected attempts by Egypt to end fighting on the border with Israel and Gaza.
Israel had previously attacked Gaza during the wars with Hamas in 2009 and 2014, operations that destroyed the impoverished Mediterranean valleys and killed between 1,000 and 2,000 Palestinians, respectively. But Hamas has been able to maintain a huge arsenal of mostly homemade rockets. Since the 2014 war, Israel has been reluctant to send troops to Gaza for fear of abducting its troops and other risks involved in such operations.