Jerusalem: Israel for the first time on Sunday launched a ground operation inside northern Gaza to silence Hamas rocket fire and asked Palestinians there to evacuate their homes as it widened its assault on the territory, killing 165 people in 1,320 airstrikes in the past six days.
Ignoring global calls for a ceasefire, Israeli forces briefly entered Gaza early today and raided a missile launching site. This is the first time Israeli forces have acknowledged they`ve entered Gaza in what appeared to be the ground assault.
During the incursion, which lasted about half an hour, both sides exchanged gunfire at the launch site, an Israeli military source said.
Four Israeli troops suffered light injuries, but all the soldiers returned home safely, the source said.
The Israeli jets later dropped leaflets warning residents of northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes ahead of their "short and temporary" campaign to begin sometime in noon.
The specially trained commandos attacked a building in Gaza overnight from where dozens of long-range rockets have been fired at Israel reaching the skies over Tel Aviv and even further north, the Israeli army said.
"The target was destroyed and the four wounded soldiers were evacuated to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon," a spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said.
Israel carried out overnight air strikes against Gaza`s security headquarters and police stations, in the heaviest bombardment since operations began on July 8.
A senior security official has said the operation in northern Gaza is necessary because the area accounts for far more rocket attacks than other areas.
The IDF struck 200 targets in Gaza over the past 24 hours, including civilian institutions and mosques with suspected Hamas ties. The other targets include 53 underground rocket launchers, 11 rocket production and storage centers, nine Hamas command and control centers, and five training camps.
Some 1,320 targets have been hit by the IDF since the start of the operation to stop rocket attacks on Israel.
The Israeli jets have also struck 62 buildings and 14 Hamas command rooms since Monday, holding the Islamist faction that has ruled Gaza since June 2007 responsible for the latest escalation.
Some 165 Palestinians have so far been killed and more 1,000 people - mainly civilians - have been injured in the Israeli offensive, medics in Gaza said.
In response, Palestinian militants have launched more than 800 rockets at Israel, including 130 in the last 24 hours, the Israeli military said today.
The UN Security Council urged Israel and Hamas yesterday to end their hostilities in Gaza, calling on both sides to respect "international humanitarian laws" and return to the "calm and restitution of the November 2012 ceasefire."