ISRAELI INVASION OF GAZA BEGINS. IDF calls up 18,000 more reservists. Behind-the-scenes details. Here’s the latest. Updated at 8:30pm eastern Thursday.

Israeli tanks and ground forces are now moving into Gaza.

Israeli tanks and ground forces are now moving into Gaza.

UPDATED AT 8:30PM EASTERN THURSDAY: (Washington, D.C.) — It has begun.

The Israeli Defense Forces have commenced a massive ground operation in Gaza. Israeli leaders have concluded they need to deal a devastating blow to Hamas, and air strikes aren’t enough.

The cabinet authorized the IDF to call up 18,000 more reservists to assist with the ground operation.

Please pray this will all end quickly. Please pray for calm to be restored. And please pray for mercy for Israelis and Palestinians. It is so painful to see the suffering and trauma on both sides. The Bible commands us to pray for peace — let us be faithful.

LATEST BEHIND-THE-SCENES DETAILS FROM HAARETZ:

  • The Israel Defense Forces ground operation in the Gaza Strip began after the inner cabinet met in secret on Thursday night in Tel Aviv. In a deceptive maneuver intended to give the impression that no significant expansion of the military operation would happen in the next 24 hours, Israeli officials told reporters the security cabinet would only be meeting on Friday morning.
  • A senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the cabinet ministers had already approved the ground operation when it met Tuesday night, after the Egyptian cease-fire initiative fell through. At the meeting, cabinet members were briefed in detail on the various stages of the operational plans. As the meeting concluded, the ministers authorized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense minister Moshe Ya’alon to decide on both the nature of the ground operation and its timing.
  • The same official also said that despite the authorization, the ground operation was delayed in order to give the Egyptians another opportunity to forge a cease-fire. On Wednesday, Shin Bet security service chief Yoram Cohen, Netanyahu’s envoy for the peace process Isaac Molho and the head of the Defense Ministry’s political-military affairs department, Amos Gilad, traveled to Cairo.
  • The Israeli delegation shared the iftar, the meal breaking the daily Ramadan fast, with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Mohammed Ahmed Fareed al-Tohami and his senior advisors. After meeting for a few hours, the delegation returned to Israel. The message Cohen, Molho and Gilad brought back was that Hamas is only increasing its demands, hardening its position toward a possible cease-fire.
  • “We found out that we, the Egyptians and [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] are more or less in the same place regarding the need for a cease-fire,” said the senior official. “But we also found out that Hamas is playing a totally different ballgame. We felt that they’re forcefully trying to sabotage the Egyptian attempts and mediation, and escalate the conflict.”
  • After the Israeli delegation returned to Israel on Thursday morning, pessimistic about the chances for a cease-fire, the decision to begin a ground operation on Thursday night began to take shape. The decision was bolstered by the fact that Hamas did not even honor the six-hour, UN-initiated humanitarian cease-fire on Thursday.
  • In the lead-up to the ground operation, the Prime Minister’s Office made what seemed like a series of attempts at disinformation in the media. On Thursday afternoon, the BBC and Reuters reported that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would go into effect at 6 A.M. Friday. Phone calls from dozens of reporters who called the PMO to confirm the reports went unanswered.
  • Cabinet ministers told journalists who asked about the cease-fire reports that they had no information about the developments.
  • Later on Thursday evening the media were told the inner cabinet was scheduled to convene at 11 A.M. Friday to discuss the situation. In fact, the security cabinet was meeting to hear updates about the imminent ground operation. Immediately afterward, about half an hour before the operation began, Israel informed the United States of the decision to expand the operation and invade the Gaza Strip.
  • After the ground incursion began, the PMO released a statement saying the operation would initially focus on destroying terror tunnels from the Strip to Israel.
  • The statement also said the decision to expand the operation was made after Israel accepted the Egyptian proposal and Hamas rejected it. “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,” the statement said.

INITIAL REPORTS:

“Israel began a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, saying it would target tunnels that infiltrate its territory after cease-fire talks failed to de-escalate the air war that has raged for 10 days,” reports the New York Times. “The military released a statement at 10:39 p.m. saying the goal of the operation was to ‘establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror.'”

“In light of Hamas’ continuous criminal aggression, and the dangerous infiltration into Israeli territory, Israel is obligated to act in defense of its citizens,” a statement from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said, reported the Jerusalem Post.

“The statement said that Operation Protective Edge, now in its 11th day, will continue until its goals are reached: restoring quiet for an extended period of time, and delivering a significant blow to Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza,” noted the Post. “Prior to the commencement of the ground invasion, the IDF launched a massive wave of combined air and artillery strikes on Thursday night. The ground invasion comes hours after a Hamas assault squad of thirteen highly armed terrorists attempted to carry out a massacre of civilians at Kibbutz Sufa, near the border, before being blocked by the IDF. Infantry, Armored Corps, Engineering Corps, artillery, and intelligence units are taking over various areas in Gaza, and are all working with one another and the air force. They are operating in northern, central, and southern Gaza, where Hamas has dug an extensive terrorist tunnel network. The IDF’s Southern Command is overseeing the ground offensive.”

UPDATES FROM YNET COVERAGE:

  • The IDF was planning to take over areas in the Strip and work to locate and destroy the terror attacks in these areas. The army also prepared additional stages of operation, including getting all the way to the Gaza beach.
  • “This step is being carried out as a continuation of the objectives achieved so far, and to deal a further serious blow to the Hamas terrorist organization and improve the security situation,” the IDF spokesman said, adding that the army was “calling in more reservists to advance the next stages.”
  • Residents living near the Gaza border have been instructed to enter bomb shelters and safe room, as a heavy barrage of rockets was fired at southern and central Israel.
  • “The IDF Home Front Command has taken the necessary steps in all relevant areas, and residents of those areas are called upon to heed defensive instructions as they issued by the media,” Almoz said.
  • The order to take action Thursday night received Cabinet approval after Israel agreed to an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire on Tuesday but Hamas rejected it and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities. Nor did Hamas respect the humanitarian ceasefire initiated by the United Nations earlier Thursday, and continued to fire at Israel during the truce.
  • “In light of Hamas’ incessant criminal aggression and dangerous infiltration into Israeli territory, Israel must act to protect its citizens,” a statement from the PMO said.
  • “Operation Protective Edge will continue until it has achieved its purpose – restoring quiet to the citizens of Israel for an extended period, with significant damage to the infrastructure of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip,” the statement went on to say. 

UPDATES FROM HAARETZ COVERAGE:

  • Israeli army to request cabinet to green light the recruitment of 18,000 more reserves in case the ground operation in Gaza is expanded.
  • Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Benny Gantz says that “we’ll launch a joint ground-aerial assault, using full force. We’ll continue to expand the fire all over the Gaza Strip.”
  • IDF Spokesperson Moti Almoz said that the IDF has entered the second phase of the operation, which will last for however long is necessary.
  • “Large ground forces, assisted by massive backing from the air force and the navy, are currently taking over areas in the Gaza Strip and acting against tunnels and other targets,” he said.
  • Almoz addressed Gaza Strip residents and called on them to evacuate the areas where the IDF is operating. (Gili Cohen, Amos Harel)

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