This morning's reports that a cease-fire could occur by Friday morning are now looking much less likely.
"The IDF's objective as defined by the Israeli government is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continues indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure," the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement late Thursday, confirming it had begun a ground operation in Gaza.
"The prime minister and defense minister have instructed the IDF to begin a ground operation tonight in order to hit the terror tunnels from Gaza into Israel," Benjamin Netanyahu's office confirmed. "In light of Hamas' continuous criminal aggression, and the dangerous infiltration into Israeli territory, Israel is obligated to act in defense of its citizens." Casualties have already been reported.
Wafa Hospital got #Israel call 9 pm local to evacuate. 5 mins later 4 shells hit 4th floor. 17 patients evacuated under fire. 4 left inside.— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) July 17, 2014
Journalists have also been ordered to evacuate:
Beachfront hotels given 30 mins to evacuate. Just over 20 mins ago. #Gaza— Alexander Marquardt (@MarquardtA) July 17, 2014
Following the five-hour humanitarian truce earlier in the day, an Israeli air strike "killed three Palestinian children feeding pigeons on their roof," NBC reports. Palestinian militants returned rocket fire, but no injuries have been reported.
IDF's Lerner says Israel's ground op is "not time bound" and will hit north, south and east of Gaza "in parallel"— Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren) July 17, 2014
Asked what Gazans should do to stay safe, IDF's Lerner said "stay away from Hamas terrorists" and infrastructure— Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren) July 17, 2014
Israel says mission of ground op is not to topple Hamas's longtime rule of Gaza, but to target tunnels and other infrastructure, operatives— Jodi Rudoren (@rudoren) July 17, 2014
Yesterday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, "To the best of my understanding, it is not possible to ensure summer vacation, a normal summer for our kids, without a ground operation in Gaza." He added, "We don't need to rule Gaza, or build settlements in Gaza. We need to ensure that all Hamas terrorists run away, are imprisoned, or die."
The New York Times reports that "intense discussions" about a cease-fire are still happening. "The effort to achieve an end of the violence is ongoing," said an Israeli official. "We're not there yet."
This post has been updated throughout.