Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel Friday said he had ordered the military to “prepare for the possibility of widening, significantly”, the ground operation in the Gaza Strip begun Thursday night, but acknowledged “there is no guarantee of 100 percent success”.
Netanyahu offered condolences to the family of an Israeli soldier killed in the first hours of the ground offensive, identified by the military as Staff Sgt. Eitan Barak, 20, from Herzliya. A Hamas-run radio station reported on Friday that three siblings had been killed in the artillery shelling of an apartment bloc in northern Gaza around noon Friday. The deaths would bring the Palestinian death toll to more than 260, more than 20 of them since the ground offensive began. Palestinian health officials have said some 2,000 others have been injured.
Sergeant Barak was the second Israeli casualty of the conflict that began July 8; a 37-year-old civilian was killed by shells from Gaza as he distributed food to soldiers massed near the border Tuesday night.
Al Aksa radio station, run by Hamas, reported that three children of Ismail Abu Musalam – Walaa, 12, Mohammed, 13, and Ahmed, 14 – had been killed when a shell hit their bedroom in Al Nada housing bloc, close to the Erez crossing from Israel. Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, on his Facebook page said Netanyahu “is killing Gaza children but he will pay the price”.
The Israeli military said it had uncovered 13 “tunnel access points” in Gaza during the ground campaign’s first hours, hit more than 150 sites in the coastal territory, and killed at least 17 militants.
“We chose to go to this operation after we exhausted the other options and with the understanding that without this operation the price we pay will be much higher,” Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address shortly before noon from the military headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he had convened his top ministers.
President Obama said in comments from the White House that he spoke with Netanyahu on Friday and that “we support military efforts by Israelis’’ to stop the rocket fire and eliminate the tunnels. He said the US and Israel’s other allies were also concerned about escalation, encouraged Israel to continue to try to minimize civilian casualties.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, whose meetings in Cairo on Wednesday and Thursday failed to produce a ceasefire agreement, told reporters there that the ground operation would “lead to more bloodshed and complicate efforts to end the aggression,” according to WAFA, official Palestinian news agency.