Thousands of Israeli troops, backed by tanks, warplanes and gunboats, pressed deeper into the Gaza Strip on Friday as Palestinian militants returned fire with rockets and mortar rounds and terrified residents hunkered down in their homes.
Heavy fighting was reported overnight in the northern Gaza cities of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahia, as well as around Khan Younis and Rafah to the south. Loud explosions continued throughout the day, as ambulances cruised the streets searching for victims.
The Israeli military said 17 militants were killed since the ground operation was launched, and 13 others surrendered and were taken for questioning. An Israeli soldier was also killed and two were injured, the military said. The cause of the death was under investigation, but Israeli media reported that friendly fire was suspected.
The sharp escalation in the fighting came despite growing international pressure on the two sides to suspend hostilities that have claimed more than 260 lives, most of them Palestinian civilians.
Israel accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal this week that called on the parties to wind down the fighting and send negotiators to Cairo to hammer out a more permanent truce.
But Prime Minister
"We chose to embark on this operation after exhausting the other options and with the understanding that without the operation, we could pay a much higher price,” Netanyahu said as he headed into a Cabinet meeting Friday.
As morning broke, families living in Gaza's frontier areas piled into donkey carts and fled for the interior, squeezing in with relatives or joining some 22,000 people sheltering at
Others, however, were too afraid to leave their homes.
Times staff writer Zavis reported from Ashkelon and special correspondent Sobelman from Jerusalem. Times photographer Carolyn Cole in Gaza City contributed to the report.