JERUSALEM — The Israeli military announced a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip late Thursday, following 10 days of exchanging rocket and artillery fire with Hamas militants.
“Our goal is to target Hamas’ tunnels that enable terrorists to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks,” Israel Defense Forces announced on Twitter. “This requires precise operations.”
The move comes hours after fighting between Israel and Hamas militants resumed following a brief lull to allow Gaza residents to stock up on food and other supplies.
Two hours into that cease-fire early Thursday, Israelis near the border were forced back into bomb shelters after rockets were launched at them. After that, the five-hour truce held until exactly at its end, when Gaza militants began launching at least 40 rockets and mortars into Israeli towns and cities. Sirens sounded as far north as Herzilya, in the center of Israel.
Israel responded by launching two airstrikes at the Gaza Strip, the Associated Press reported.
Egypt, which has been pushing for a cease-fire to end the conflict that began July 8, continued its diplomatic efforts Thursday. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi met with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas after Egyptian officials met with representatives of Israel and Hamas in Cairo.
Israel had accepted Egypt’s call this week to halt the fighting, but Hamas rejected it, saying it wanted more concessions that include easing a blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.
The cross-border fighting has so far killed more than 220 Palestinians and one Israeli.
On Thursday, the U.N. agency caring for Palestinian refugees, announced that it had discovered rockets hidden in a vacant Gaza school.
“UNRWA strongly condemns the group or groups responsible for placing the weapons in one of its installations,” it said in a statement.
“This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law,” it adds.
This incident “endangered civilians including staff and put at risk UNRWA’s vital mission to assist and protect Palestine refugees in Gaza.”
Also on Thursday, Israel’s Ministry of Defense said the murder of a 16-year-old Arab resident of East Jerusalem was a terror attack, for which three Jews were indicted on murder charges.
Muhammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped on July 2 and his burned body was discovered in a Jerusalem forest a few hours later. His murder, following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, sparked widespread Arab rioting in East Jerusalem and throughout Israel and precipitated the current fighting.
The move to designate Abu Khdeir as a terror victim “was made as a result of the indictment and the findings of the investigation, which point to the nationalist motive of his murder,” the ministry said.
A 29-year-old man and two 17-year-olds, who have not been named, were indicted for the murder. The Shin Bet security services said the suspects confessed to the crime, which they said was to avenge the murder of the three Israeli teens, who were kidnapped on June 12. Israel blames Hamas for that crime. The teens were buried the day before Abu Khdeir was killed.
The designation as a terror victim entitles Abu Khdeir’s family to financial benefits provided by Israel’s National Insurance Institute. Although many Arab families in Israel receive such benefits due to terror attacks carried out by Palestinians, the government rarely designates crimes committed by Jews a terror attack.
Dumalaon reported from Berlin, Michele Chabin reported from Jerusalem. Contributing: Asscoiated Press