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Israeli Military: Ground Forces Cross Into Gaza

  • VOA News

Israeli ground forces have crossed into the Gaza Strip, signaling an expansion of Israel's offensive against the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Witnesses say Israeli tanks and troops backed by helicopter gunships entered northern Gaza under darkness Saturday, around the town of Beit Lahiya. Media reports say there is heavy fighting in the area.

Israeli military officials say the operation will be lengthy, and involves destroying the Hamas military infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Israeli troops and tanks have massed on the Gaza border in recent days, preparing for a possible ground invasion. Israel has also ordered the call-up of thousands of military reservists

Israeli warplanes, gunboats and artillery attacked Hamas targets in Gaza Saturday.

One Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hamas commander (Abu-Zakariya al-Jamal), the third top Hamas figure to die in the fighting. Warplanes also struck a mosque in northern Gaza, killing at least 10 people, and a Palestinian college called the American school.

Israel's army says the college has been used as a base to launch rockets at Israel.

From Syria, exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal vowed revenge and warned Israel against a ground incursion.

Hamas militants fired about 20 more rockets into southern Israel today. One rocket hit a building in the city of Ashdod, wounding two people.

The United States is calling for a cease-fire but says it is up to Israel whether to invade Gaza.

In his weekly radio address today, U.S. President George Bush blamed Hamas for instigating the violence and said the group's rockets attacks on Israel are an act of terror. He said the United States is working for a cease-fire, but that a one-sided accord would not be acceptable. He also called for international monitors to ensure the militants stop smuggling weapons into Gaza.

Officials say at least 460 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict. The United Nations estimates about a quarter of those have been civilians. To limit civilian casualties, Israeli aircraft have been dropping leaflets over Gaza warning people to leave their homes before air strikes are launched.

Hamas has killed three Israeli civilians and a soldier with its daily rocket attacks.

Thousands of Israeli Arabs demonstrated today in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin against Israel's attacks on Hamas. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations also took place in London, Madrid, Paris and other European cities, as well as in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

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