Israel invades Gaza Strip, escalating military operation against Hamas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The heavy thud of tank shells is echoing across the Gaza Strip as Friday’s dawn approaches.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks have rolled into the Palestinian territory in a ground invasion aimed at destroying Hamas’ rocket-firing abilities and the tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel.

With flares lighting the night sky, the wail of ambulance sirens mixed with the Muslim call to prayer from mosque loudspeakers before dawn.

Thick smoke is rising from sites where shells and missiles struck. An official in the Gaza security operations room says, “there is a tank shell every minute” and all of the seaside strip’s border areas are being shelled. He says Hamas fighters have been exchanging fire with Israeli troops near a town in northern Gaza.

Gaza health officials say eight Palestinians have been killed in the early stages of the Israeli ground operation. Palestinian health officials say more than 240 Palestinians died in Israel’s 10-day air campaign that preceded the invasion.

One Israeli has also been killed in the fighting.

%@AP Links

293-a-14-(Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, spokesman, Israel military, in interview)-“the terrorist infrastructure”-Israel military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner says the military objectives of Israel are twofold. (17 Jul 2014)

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294-a-11-(Mark Regev, spokesman, Israeli government, in interview)-“they want conflict”-Israel government spokesman Mark Regev says Hamas has a choice. (17 Jul 2014)

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263-c-14-(Aron Heller, AP correspondent)-“go into Israel”-AP correspondent Aron Heller reports Israel has launched a ground invasion of Gaza aimed at destroying what its military says are tunnels used by Hamas fighters. (17 Jul 2014)

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264-c-14-(Aron Heller, AP correspondent)-“the Palestinian side”-AP correspondent Aron Heller reports Israeli troops have crossed into Gaza to target tunnels used by Hamas to enter Israel. (17 Jul 2014)

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265-c-09-(Aron Heller, AP correspondent)-“giving them support”-AP correspondent Aron Heller reports thousands of Israeli soldiers had been on standby on the Gaza border in recent days, waiting for the order to go in. (17 Jul 2014)

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APPHOTO AXLP141: Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Israel launched a large-scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip Thursday, escalating a 10-day military operation to try to destroy Hamas’ weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory’s border with Israel. It was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) (17 Jul 2014)

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APPHOTO AXLP143: Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 17, 2014. Israel launched a large-scale ground offensive in the Gaza Strip Thursday, escalating a 10-day military operation to try to destroy Hamas’ weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory’s border with Israel. It was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis) (17 Jul 2014)

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