Israeli tanks, soldiers invade Gaza Strip, clashes reported with Hamas

Israel launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, sending tanks and infantry into battle with Hamas fighters who have defied eight days of deadly air strikes with salvoes of rocket fire into Israeli towns. (UPDATED)

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Israeli tank fire killed three Gazans at the onset of the night-time invasion, bringing the Palestinian death toll since Dec. 27 to nearly 450, medical officials told Reuters.

Gaza emergency services said one child was killed and 11 other children were wounded. They said two other Palestinians, including a woman, were killed east of Gaza City, earlier reports said.

A military source told AFP dozens of Hamas militants have been killed so far in Israel's ground offensive which it said could take "many long days".

Hamas said it killed several soldiers, but there was no Israeli confirmation as columns of tanks pushed into the coastal territory from four entry points.

Israel's Channel 2 reported that the Navy was imposing a blockade on the water near Gaza to prevent Hamas from receiving assistance through Gaza's coastline.

Israeli tanks opened fire on Hamas positions after entering the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday and Hamas forces replied with mortar fire, the news agencies reported.

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The plight of the 1.5 million Palestinians crammed into Gaza was growing more desperate. People have taken shelter in their homes for days and humanitarian agencies warned that food, water and medical supplies were running short.

Several hours into the armoured offensive, Israeli tanks moved some two kilometres (1.2 miles) into the northern Gaza Strip, taking up positions in an area frequently used by militants to fire rockets across the border, witnesses said.

A Palestinian petrol station along the invasion route was engulfed in flames after being hit by a tank shell.

The IDF said that a large amount of Armored Corps, Engineering Corps and Infantry troops entered the territory with the purpose of destroying Hamas infrastructure and preventing rocket fire by taking control of launching pads in northern Gaza.

Israeli troops face Hamas militants whom the United States and Israel say have received arms and training from Iran. Hamas is believed to have about 25,000 fighters and has placed landmines and other traps in anticipation of an invasion.

Hours before the advance, an Israeli air strike killed 11 Palestinian worshippers, including children, and wounded dozens at a mosque in Beit Lahiya, Hamas officials and medics said.

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Israel has targeted mosques previously, saying that Hamas had used them as command posts and fire bases.

One strike killed Abu Zakaria al-Jamal, a senior commander of Hamas's armed wing, Hamas said.

Israel occupied Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War and after Palestinian uprisings formally ended its military rule in 2005, although it still controls the borders.


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