Israeli defense forces sent ground attack troops and tanks into Gaza strip besides pummeling Hamas targets inside the Arab enclave as it prepared to launch a final assault in the face of persistent rocket fire from the Palestinians.
The IDF said it has struck more than 700 Hamas targets since the Gaza offensive started on Monday. The dead include senior commanders of the Hamas military wing, IDF said.
So far airstrikes were the key element in the offensive, codenamed Operation Guardians of the Walls, but sending ground troops marks a momentum shift in the Israeli strategy to confront incessant rocket fire from Gaza.
"Israeli planes and troops on the ground are carrying out an attack in the Gaza Strip," the Israeli army said, according to news agencies. However, the army has not disclosed the scale of the operation.
Though Israeli media said the ground attack in Gaza strip has started, Al Jazeera reported that there was no sign yet of ground offensive in the enclave as of Friday morning.
It is more likely that Israel is preparing for an all-out ground attack in Gaza as such an operation needs a lot of logistical preparation. Reports from the ground suggest that though a full-scale invasion is not taking place yet, Israeli army is firing artillery into Gaza from Israel's side of the border.
Rockets Fired from Lebanon
In another development adding further dimensions to the Middle East crisis, at least three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory. However, Lebanon's Hezbollah reportedly said it had link to the incident.
Meanwhile, Hamas fired scores of rockets into Israel, with one hitting a building in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon on Friday morning. Palestinian media said Hamas fired at least 250 rockets into Israel in the last few hours.
Rising Death Toll
While Gaza's Health Ministry said 103 people were killed and 580 were injured, IDF said 60 Hamas operatives were killed, including 10 senior commanders.
Israel bombed offices of the Hamas-controlled local administration on Thursday. The central bank run by Hamas also came under attack, while Israeli military also said it attacked the home of top Hamas commander Iyad Tayeb was also razed. Tayeb had several Hamas of battalions under his watch, IDF said.
'Hamas Losing Everything'
"The organization is losing everything," IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman told the JPost. "Tonight we started destroying government targets in the Gaza Strip, such as central banks and internal security buildings. Hamas is beginning to discover cracks and there is pressure in the organization, even among the Gaza public who is losing its patience and sees these ruins on the eve of the [Eid al-Fitr] holiday," he added.
Here are the other Hamas targets that came under attack, according to the IDF:
- Facilities belonging to Hamas police
- Interior Security Ministry building
- Homes of Hamas commanders
- Naval commando unit and defensive tunnel inside a school
- Hamas' cyber units in Gaza City
- Operational apartment of the head of Hamas's drone unit Samer Abu Daka
- Hamas intelligence facility that served as command center for surveillance network
- Seven anti-tank guided missile cells