Israeli troops and tanks began their descent on Gaza Saturday night, officially launching a predicted ground assault against Hamas militants, the New York Times reports.
“This will not be easy and it will not be short” said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, reinforcing what many other officials have said; preparing the public for a lengthy campaign.
Last night Gazans witnessed the calm before the storm, a halt in air assaults just before dozens were fired along the border to make a path clear of mines and bombs for incoming forces. Troops marched single file into Gaza overnight, backed by tanks and helicopters.
Israel’s military said their reason for launching the assault is “to destroy the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas.” Hamas however has vowed not to fall without a fight, they answered with several strong words of their own.
“Be prepared for a unique surprise, you will be either killed or kidnapped and will suffer mental illness from the horrors we will show you,” said a message broadcast by a Hamas official on radio frequency.
“Gaza will not be paved with flowers for you, it will be paved with fire and hell,” another Hamas official warned Israel, AP reports.
Hamas has also threatened to resume suicide attacks in Israel.
Israel has repeatedly stated their goal is not to reoccupy Gaza, only to ensure an end to Hamas airstrikes that have plagued Southern Israel for several years.
The ground assault brings risk not only to Hamas and Gazans, but Israeli forces as well. New York Times reports that Hamas has had 18 months since Israel last withdrew to smuggle in high-grade weapons to be used in combat.
The ground assault will most likely increase the number of Israeli deaths; so far four Israelis have been killed, compared to more than 460 Palestinians.
Israel has said it is committed to limiting the number of civilian deaths, however during the surge of air assaults before the ground assault was launched, a mosque was hit during evening prayer killing at least 11 and injuring more than 30.
The UN predicts nearly 25 per cent of those killed in Gaza so far were civilians.