Israel Defense Forces troops entered the Gaza Strip for the first time since Israel’s operation in Gaza began.
The ground operation, which has been expected since the beginning of Operation Cast Lead eight days ago, began Saturday night as a column of troops marched into northern Gaza.
Meanwhile, Arab nations demanded Saturday that the United Nations Security Council call for an immediate cease-fire, the Associated Press reported. Their view echoed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Troops clashed with Hamas terrorists Saturday night, injuring at least 30, according to IDF officials. No Israeli casualties have been reported. The army targeted a fuel depot in Gaza. The navy has imposed a 20-mile naval bockade on gaza to prevent foreign combat ships from entering.
The ground operation came several hours after IDF artillery cannons bombarded Gaza with hundreds of shells. It was the first time in three years that Israel has used artillery cannons against Gaza, Ynet reported.
According to the IDF, the ground operation’s objective is to destroy Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and to take control of the areas from which rockets are being fired into Israel. The IDF has raised the level of alert for military forces in other areas of the country, according to a statement from the IDF spokeman’s office.
The ground incursion was approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a meeting Friday night.
“The decision to embark on the ground phase of the operation was taken following in depth consideration,” Barak said during an address to the nation and the media shortly after Israeli troops entered Gaza. “We have carefully weighed all our options. We are not war hungry but we shall not, I repeat – we shall not allow a situation in which our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined.”
We seek peace. We have restrained ourselves for a long time but now is the time to do what needs to be done. We are determined to afford our citizens what any citizen anywhere in the world is entitled to – peace, tranquility and freedom from threats,” Barak concluded.
The IDF began calling up thousands of reservists, the majority from combat units, a large number from the Homefront Command, and some from other supporting units, according to the IDF spokesman’s office.
The air force dropped leaflets in areas of Gaza Saturday urging residents to leave their homes since the IDF would be operating in the area.
“The IDF Spokesperson wishes to reiterate that the residents of Gaza are not the target of the operation. Those who use civilians, the elderly, women and children as “human shields” are responsible for any and all injury to the civilian population. Anyone who hides a terrorist or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist,” read a statement issued Saturday shortly after the ground operation began.
Earlier Saturday, at least 10 people were killed and more injured in an airstrike on a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip.
Also on Saturday, the air force killed Hamas leader Muhammad Maaruf after scoring a direct hit on his car.
An Israeli woman was hurt Saturday when a Kassam rocket crashed through the roof of a home in Netivot in southern Israel.
Hundreds of Israelis demonstrated both for and against the operation Saturday in Tel Aviv.
Back at the U.N., Libya circulated a draft statement to council members before emergency council consultations began expressing “serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza” following Israel’s ground assault and calling on Israel and Hamas “to stop immediately all military activities.”
The 15-member council then met behind closed doors to discuss a proposed presidential statement that would also call for all parties to address the humanitarian and economic needs in Gaza, including by opening border crossings.
“We need to have from the Security Council reaction tonight to bring this latest addition of aggression against our people in Gaza to an immediate halt,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. observer told reporters.