As hostilities entered their fifth day, with no sign of abating, the Israeli military said in a statement shortly after midnight that air and ground forces were attacking the Hamas-run enclave. Rocket barrages from Gaza swiftly followed.
Although the statement gave no further details, Israeli military affairs correspondents who are briefed regularly by the armed forces said it was not a ground invasion, and that troops were firing artillery from Israel’s side of the border.
Residents of northern Gaza, near the Israeli frontier, said they had seen no sign of Israeli ground forces inside the enclave but reported heavy artillery fire and dozens of air strikes.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday the campaign “will take more time.” Israeli officials said Hamas, Gaza’s most powerful terrorist group, must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any ceasefire.
The sound of explosions echoed across northern and eastern parts of Gaza. Witnesses said many families living in areas near the border quit their homes, some seeking shelter at United Nations-run schools.
Violence also spread to mixed communities of Jews and Arabs in Israel, a new front in the long conflict. Synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out on the streets of some towns, prompting Israel’s president to warn of civil war.
At least 109 people were killed in Gaza, including 29 children, over the previous four days, Palestinian medical officials said. On Thursday alone, 52 Palestinians were killed in the enclave, the highest single-day figure since Monday.
Seven people were killed in Israel: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, five Israeli civilians, including two children, and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.
Worried that the region’s worst hostilities in years could spiral out of control, the United States was sending in an envoy, Hady Amr.