Israeli troops crossed into the Gaza Strip Thursday evening to launch a ground offensive against Hamas terrorists who had unleashed a blistering tirade of rockets into Israel following a five-hour cease-fire requested by the United Nations for humanitarian purposes.
Hamas reportedly fired more than 100 rockets as soon as the cease-fire ended at 3 p.m. The Israeli military said two homes were damaged in the fusillade, 10 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the others landed in open areas.
Israel’s security cabinet authorized the move. It had resisted a ground invasion throughout the 10-day conflict, fearing it could cost the lives of Israeli soldiers and additional Palestinian civilian deaths. More than 220 Palestinians — most of them civilians — have reportedly been killed in the conflict to date.
But despite Israel’s aerial and sea assault against Hamas rocket launchers, command and control centers and other visible targets, Israel was unable to get at the network of underground tunnels that form a virtual underground city in the 25-mile long Gaza Strip.
That became most pronounced just hours before the cease-fire began when 13 Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip were spotted emerging from a tunnel inside Israel, according to Miri Eisen, the Israeli government spokesman during the second Lebanon War.
“A woman observer saw them come out of the tunnel and when they heard the sound of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle], they ran back into the tunnel and the tunnel was attacked,” she said.
“In the last 10 days we have seen Hamas as a paramilitary organization, now we have seen the transition to a full-scale military, firing rockets and trying to attack Israel from the land, sea and air — and underground,” Eisen said in a conference call organized by the Israel Project. “They are trying to attack Israeli communities that are located around the Gaza Strip. We saw this on the first day [of the war when the terrorists were all shot and killed after emerging from a tunnel] and again this morning.
“Through the years when Israel controlled the Gaza Strip there was always an issue of tunneling from the Gaza Strip into Egypt. We were very aware of it and always looking for entrances. We are talking about tunnels dug the way you would for trains. They use their money and Caterpillars and cement to build them.”
Eisen added: “At the end of the day we’re not sure we actually killed the terrorists, but they dropped all their weapons — 15 antitank missiles and personal Kalashnikovs and ammunition.”
She said they were planning to attack a kibbutz and kidnap an Israeli soldier.