Israel has pushed further into the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip, expanding a ground offensive. Violence has been escalating since the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier last week. Palestinian witnesses say at least 11 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza. News agencies are reporting one Israeli soldier has died in the fighting
Israeli tanks and troops moved into northern Gaza, reoccupying the area of three former Jewish settlements abandoned nearly a year ago. The army is effectively carving out a buffer zone, in a bid to halt weeks of Palestinian rocket attacks.
The government ordered the offensive after homemade Kassam rockets hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon for the first time. Gunmen from the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Palestinian Authority, claimed responsibility.
No one was hurt in the rocket attacks, but Israel says Hamas crossed a red line by targeting a major population center. Government spokesman Ra'anan Gissin says, even though all soldiers and settlers pulled out of Gaza last year, the Israel Defense Forces will go back in if they have to.
"The IDF can operate from the air, from the land, from the sea, and choose the time and place in order to prevent the Kassam rocket firing. This time, the IDF chose another method of operation, which keeps those who fire the Kassams off balance," Gissin said.
Moderate Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat says it is a black day.
"I think, what we're witnessing now is reoccupation of Gaza Strip. I don't know what will this produce. This will add to the complexities," Erekat said.
Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian government have been on a collision course since an Israeli soldier was kidnapped 12 days ago from an army base near Gaza. Hamas gunmen holding the soldier have not released any information since Israel refused to meet a Tuesday deadline set by the militants to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel says it will not negotiate for the soldier's release, but behind the scenes, Egypt and Turkey are continuing to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis. The kidnappers are reportedly prepared to lower their price, but reject Israel's demand for an unconditional release of the captive soldier.