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Israeli Troops Clash With Hamas in Gaza Ground Offensive

Israeli troops pushed deep into Gaza Sunday as the new phase of their offensive against Hamas gained momentum. Earlier, the UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement calling for a ceasefire.

The UN Security Council in New York

Israel's ground offensive comes after a week of air strikes

Israeli forces pushed deeper into the Gaza Strip on Saturday with clashes reported in Gaza City, the northern town of Beit Lahiya and the Jabaliya refugee camp.

The ground operation in the Gaza Strip came after eight days of heavy aerial bombardment in what Israel says is a retaliatory offensive to stop Hamas firing rockets into Israeli territory.

Smoke rises above Gaza during the Israeli offensive

Smoke rises above Gaza during the Israeli offensive

Both sides have reported casualties. Earlier, the Israeli army said 30 of its soldiers had been wounded in the ground offensive, two of them seriously.

Palestinian medical officials said at least 19 Gazans had been killed in the Israeli incursion. That brings the Palestinian death toll since the start of the air campaign on Dec. 27 to more than 450, they said.

 

UN fails to find common ground

The UN Security Council late Saturday failed to agree on a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip in the wake of Israel's ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. 

Despite widespread international condemnation and calls by the UN secretary general for an immediate halt to operations., the 15-member body could not overcome all differences of opinion to issue a common statement. 

The French ambassador to the Security Council, Jean-Maurice Ripert, told reporters the 15-member body could not agree on a statement that would call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

US blocks Security Council resolution

According to diplomats, the United States had thwarted Libya's efforts to persuade the UN Security Council to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Libya, the only Arab member of the council, had circulated a draft statement expressing "serious concern at the escalation of the situation in Gaza, in particular, after the launching of the Israeli ground offensive" and urged all parties "to observe an immediate ceasefire."

The UN Security Council in New York

The UN Security Council failed to find common ground despite the escalating violence

But diplomats said the United States refused to back the Libyan-drafted text and killed the initiative, since council statements must be passed unanimously. Later the United States refused to back a watered-down call for a truce, the diplomats said.

The United States, one of five permanent Security Council members, insists that any statement or resolution state that the Palestinian militant group Hamas is a terrorist organization that seized power in Gaza from the legitimate Palestinian Authority.

US envoy to the Security Council Alejandro Wolff said there was no point in issuing statements that Hamas, which unilaterally declared an end to a six-month old ceasefire last month, would ignore.

"I don't think it does the council any good ... to issue statements that aren't going to be observed," Wolff said. "Israel's self-defence is not negotiable."

Libya and other Arab states oppose the US position, leaving the Security Council deadlocked on the Gaza crisis. The emergency session on Saturday was the third such consultation on Gaza since the conflict erupted on Dec. 27.

Israel: Ground operation "won't be easy or short"

Wearing night-vision goggles and camouflage paint on their faces, Israeli soldiers flanked by columns of tanks entered the densely populated enclave on Jan. 3 from four points as combat helicopters flew overhead.

Israel said it had called up tens of thousands of reservists and the military's chief spokesman estimated the operation in the Hamas-run enclave could run "many long days".

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Ehud Barak has warned the ground offensive won't be a short one

The ground operation is the second stage of the Israeli offensive which began last Dec. 27, and was intended to destroy Hamas operations, and to lower the number of rockets being fired at Israel.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak told reporters in Tel Aviv that the sole aim of the military operation was to "protect the home front" and prevent Hamas from being able to fire rockets at Israeli territory. 

He said the ground campaign against Hamas "will not be easy or short, but we are determined".

Hamas warns of "black destiny"

The Islamic Hamas movement warned Israel Saturday night that by sending ground troops into Gaza it was falling into "the trap that our fighters had prepared for its soldiers and tanks."

Palestinian Hamas supporters in Ramallah protest Israel's military operation in Gaza

Palestinian Hamas supporters in Ramallah protest Israel's military operation in Gaza

The movement's armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement that "the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will be a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face."

The militant group's exiled political leader, Khaled Meshaal, earlier warned Israel against a ground offensive, saying that a "black destiny" awaited Israeli forces if the entered Gaza.

Hamas is believed to have about 25,000 fighters and is said to have placed landmines and other booby traps in anticipation of an invasion.

Heavy casualties are likely to increase international pressure on Israel to halt its biggest operation in the Gaza Strip in four decades.

The plight of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was growing more desperate as the offensive continued. Humanitarian agencies have warned that water, food and medical supplies were running short.

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