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Israel deepens Gaza push to destroy Hamas tunnels

By The Associated Press

This article was published July 18, 2014 at 7:03 a.m.

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Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City on Friday, July 18, 2014. Israel intensified its 11-day campaign against Hamas by sending in tanks and troops late Thursday after becoming increasingly exasperated with unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza on its cities, especially following Hamas' rejection of an Egyptian cease-fire plan earlier in the week.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels, firing volleys of tank shells and clashing with Palestinian fighters in a high-stakes ground offensive meant to weaken the enclave's Hamas rulers.

Israel launched the operation late Thursday, following a 10-day campaign of more than 2,000 airstrikes against Gaza that had failed to halt relentless Hamas rocket fire on Israeli cities.

Israel's first major ground offensive in Gaza in just over five years came as Egyptian cease-fire efforts stalled. Earlier this week, Israel accepted Cairo's offer to halt hostilities, but Hamas refused, demanding that Israel and Egypt first give guarantees to ease the blockade on Gaza.

Israel had been reticent about launching a ground offensive for fear of endangering its own soldiers and drawing international condemnation over mounting Palestinian civilian deaths.

It remains unclear how long the offensive will last and what Israel's eventual goal may be — other than its stated goal of stopping the rocket attacks.

Israeli leaders have said the aim is to weaken Hamas militarily and have not addressed the possibility of driving the Islamic militants from power.

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