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Israel steps up its ground offensive while Hamas steps up its rocket barrages

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Israeli military forces are pressing ahead with the country’s ground offensive in the Gaza Strip where Palestinian militants have been continuously firing rockets deep in to the heart of Israel. Palestinian officials have claimed that at least 65 Palestinians, some of whom were children, have been killed since Israel sent ground forces into enclave of around 1.8 million Palestinians.

Since the offensive began, more than 135 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. However, most of these rockets were shot down by Israel’s advanced missile-defense system, the Iron Dome. Several rockets were intercepted over the country’s commercial capital, Tel Aviv, and caused no casualties.

The Israeli military claims that since it began the infantry and tank assault on the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, 17 Palestinian gunmen have been killed and another 21 surrendered and were taken in for questioning. Some 240 targets, including 21 concealed rocket launchers and 10 tunnels, have been attacked.

One Israeli soldier has been killed, though this was apparently a friendly-fire incident. Several other troops have been wounded in battle. The assault remains strongly in Israel’s favor as its military is better trained and better equipped.

President Barack Obama said that he has spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, underscoring Washington’s support for Israel to defend itself but raising concerns about “the risks of further escalation” and additional loss of innocent lives. “We are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties,” Obama told reporters at the White House.

At an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on Friday, UN political affairs chief, Jeffrey Feltman, condemned rocket fire into Israel but voiced alarm at “Israel’s heavy response”. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to travel to the Middle East on Saturday in a bid to end the hostilities.

The Israeli land advance followed 10 days of barrages against Gaza from air and sea, about 1,500 rockets fired by Hamas into Israel, and failed attempts to secure a truce by Egypt, a broker of ceasefires in previous Israeli-Palestinian flare-ups. “We chose to start this operation after we exhausted other options and reached the conclusion that without it we could pay a much higher price,” Netanyahu said on Friday. “The main goal is to restore quiet. Read more about the story here.

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