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Israeli Official: Chance Of A Ground Invasion Of Gaza 'Very High'

A picture taken from the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing from the coastal Palestinian enclave following an Israeli airstrike Wednesday.
Jack Guez
AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken from the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing from the coastal Palestinian enclave following an Israeli airstrike Wednesday.

This post was updated at 3 p.m. ET.

Israel has agreed to a United Nations request for a temporary cease-fire in its shelling campaign of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports.

The five-hour bombing halt on Thursday will allow humanitarian aid to be delivered in Gaza.

But any semblance of peace will be fleeting.

Rockets are launched from Gaza toward Israel on Wednesday, one day after a cease-fire proposal failed.
Jack Guez / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Rockets are launched from Gaza toward Israel on Wednesday, one day after a cease-fire proposal failed.

A senior Israeli military official told journalists at a briefing in Tel Aviv on Wednesday there is "a very high possibility for a ground operation."

"If you want to efficiently fight terrorism, you need to have boots on the ground," he said, according to a Washington Post report.

The official said an Israeli invasion and takeover of Gaza would not be "a huge challenge" and could be accomplished fairly quickly. But it would precipitate an occupation "of many months."

"Every day that passes makes the possibility more evident," the official said, according to The New York Times. "We can hurt them very hard from the air, but not get rid of them."

This post was updated at 1 p.m. ET.

An Israeli strike has been blamed for the deaths of four boys on a beach in Gaza. The boys, from 9 to 11 years old, had reportedly been playing near the water when explosions hit.

A Washington Post reporter who was at the scene of the attack says that at first, he thought the explosion he heard might have been from a rocket launched by militants.

"Then we saw a gang of kids running from the shack, down the breakwater and onto the sand, hurtling toward al-Deira," William Booth writes. "A couple of waiters, the cook and a few journalists started waving at them. Run here! Then a second missile exploded on the beach right behind them."

Booth says that some of the kids made it to safety; some had shrapnel wounds. But others had died in the attack.

From Reuters:

"Ashraf al-Qidra of the Gaza Health Ministry said shelling from an Israeli gunboat off Gaza's Mediterranean coast killed four boys — two aged 10 and the others 9 and 11 — from one family and critically wounded another youngster on the beach."

After reports of the boys' deaths, the Israel Defense Forces says it will investigate the incident.

From Times of Israel:

"According to Israel Radio, the Israeli military has appointed Maj. Gen. Noam Tibon to investigate all Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge in which noncombatants were killed.

"The death toll in the more than week-long conflict has risen to over 212 Palestinians, of which the IDF says half are noncombatants."

The news comes less than one day after a cease-fire seemed possible in the violence that has gripped the area since last week.

Israeli officials say they have called up another 8,000 reservists, a move that would bring the total to 56,000. The increase would free troops to move into positions along the border with Gaza, according to Jerusalem Post.

Earlier Wednesday, Israel warned tens of thousands of Gaza residents to leave their homes ahead of fresh strikes. Those who received the warning were given until 8 a.m. local time to leave.

The messages were delivered via text messages, phone calls and leaflets dropped from planes. The airstrikes that followed targeted Hamas leaders.

"The Israeli military says it has carried out airstrikes on at least three-dozen targets in Gaza today," Daniel Estrin reports for NPR from Jerusalem. "Gaza officials say the homes of four senior Hamas leaders were attacked. And dozens of rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza. At least 16 rockets landed in Israel, and at least 10 rockets were intercepted midair — some of them above the Tel Aviv area."

Hamas has fired more than 1,000 rockets into Israel since the current conflict began last week, Israeli defense officials say.

Israel suffered its first fatality of the fighting yesterday; in Gaza, the death toll is far higher — more than 200 people, according to Palestinian officials.

Tuesday's promise of a possible peace deal backed by Egypt was dashed within hours, as leaders of Hamas said they had never been consulted about the deal. Their rejection came after Israel's security Cabinet approved the cease-fire deal by a split vote; the country's military then suspended airstrikes on Gaza, in accordance with the plan. The attacks resumed after several hours.

The spurned deal has deepened divisions within the Israeli government, NPR's Ari Shapiro reports:

"Some Cabinet ministers are vocally criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who voted against the cease-fire proposal, says Israel's army should conquer the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Netanyahu fired his deputy defense minister, Danny Danon, after Danon said that Hamas humiliated Israel."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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