Israel steps up Gaza bombardment, Palestinians flee as fears of invasion grow

Days of fighting between Israel and Hamas — the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip — has killed more than 100 Palestinians, including 31 children, and eight Israelis.

By Alexander Smith*

Israel stepped up its bombardment of Gaza early Friday as tanks and artillery joined aerial attacks, an escalation that intensified fears of an all-out invasion.

Many fled their homes in the tiny, impoverished enclave as ground forces joined Israel’s intensifying response and a wave of Arab-Jewish communal unrest swept the country for another night.

Israel said it carried out a 40-minute, pre-dawn barrage of 160 strikes aimed at destroying a vast network of tunnels used by Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

Hamas continued firing rockets into Israel. It has launched 1,800 missiles this week, a barrage that has killed eight Israelis including one child, wounded hundreds of others and sent people fleeing into bomb shelters in Tel Aviv and other cities.

Israel has called up 9,000 reservists and massed troops along its border with Gaza, which is home to 2 million Palestinians.

It has been in “various stages of preparing ground operations” this week, according to a military spokesman.

There was confusion late Thursday after the Israeli military announced “ground troops” were attacking the area and media reports suggested Israeli soldiers had entered Gaza itself. It later clarified that this wasn’t the case, but the incident highlighted the level of concern internationally that such a development — evoking the weekslong 2014 Gaza War — may be imminent.

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