The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Friday, the eleventh day of Operation Protective Edge. On Thursday night, Israel had launched a major ground offensive on Hamas in Gaza, initially focused on Hamas’s under-border tunnels. By Friday evening, at least 19 Hamas fighters had been killed in gunfights with Israeli troops and one Israel soldier was killed, in an apparent incident of errant IDF tank fire; at least 13 Hamas men were captured by Israel. Palestinian sources put the total Gaza death toll at almost 300. IDF Chief Benny Gantz said Hamas’s terror infrastructure was being set back years. (Saturday’s liveblog is here.) Remember, you can also follow @TOIAlerts on Twitter — we’re live-tweeting all the updates there as well.

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Ground offensive ‘not yet heading into most complex areas’

Two hours after Israel announced the launch of its ground offensive against Hamas, Housing Minister Uri Ariel says the IDF is not yet heading into “the most complex areas” of Gaza. At this stage, the operation will “allow the special forces” to deal with the tunnels.

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (C) at a press conference promoting new housing units to be built in the Jewish settlement of Tel Tzion, near Jerusalem, on August 13, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (C) at a press conference promoting new housing units to be built in the Jewish settlement of Tel Tzion, near Jerusalem, on August 13, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Ariel tells Army Radio that he expects Hamas will keep firing rockets, however. If so, he says, this will necessitate a deeper IDF land offensive.

The ground offensive was announced late Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office,

After ordering ground troops into Gaza, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon had instructed the IDF to be prepared for an expansion of ground operations as part of its attack on Hamas terror tunnels in the Gaza Strip.

“Through terror tunnels such as these, Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israeli territory early this morning with the aim of carrying out mass terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The green light for ground ops in the Gaza Strip was given by the cabinet after Israel agreed to an Egyptian ceasefire proposal which Hamas rejected and afterward launched rockets at Israel, the PMO said. It also pointed at Hamas’s abrogation of the five-hour humanitarian truce earlier on Thursday.

The IDF spokesman said later Thursday that large numbers of troops were operating in Gaza, and urged Gaza residents to evacuate areas where the IDF was operating.

The offensive was unanimously approved by the security cabinet “several days ago,” Likud minister Gilad Erdan said.

Rocket from Syria lands near Israel

Sirens are heard on the Golan Heights as one rocket is fired from Syria and lands close to the border with Israel, Israel Radio reports.

Reports on armored forces in southern Gaza

Al Arabiya reports that Israeli APCs are moving into the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces engage Palestinian fighters in Gaza

An IDF source tells Channel 2 that Israeli forces are engaging Palestinian fighters in multiple locations in the Gaza Strip. There are no reports of Israeli injuries.

Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip say 243 Palestinians have been killed and 1,850 injured since Israel commenced Operation Protective Edge.

Sirens in Beersheba, Ashkelon

Drones, helicopters firing on targets

Israeli drones and helicopters, in addition to ground forces and fighter jets, are firing are on targets in the Gaza Strip, Sky News reports.

Illustrative photo of an Apache helicopter (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

Illustrative photo of an Apache helicopter (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

1 dead, 6 injured in Rafah

Palestinian sources report that IDF shelling leaves one dead and six injured in the city of Rafah, on the Egypt-Gaza border.

UN chief urges Israel to ‘do far more’ to spare civilians

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urges Israel to “do far more” to spare Palestinian civilians after it launched a ground offensive in Gaza on Thursday.

“I regret that despite my repeated urgings, and those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further,” Ban tells reporters.

The UN chief describes as “appalling” the death of four boys killed by Israeli strikes Wednesday on a Gaza City beach.

“I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties. There can be no military solution to this conflict,” he says.

Israel began a ground operation in Gaza on Thursday, on the 10th day of an offensive to stamp out rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave that has had a heavy toll on Palestinian lives.

AFP

Break in rocket fire as operation starts

After days of steady rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, the launches came to a sudden halt as IDF forces entered the northern Gaza Strip. The quiet lasted for three hours, until Palestinian terrorists fire rockets toward the city of Ofakim.

Commentators on Channel 2 report that the initial incursion likely caused Hamas fighters to take up defensive positions, but with time, they should manage to renew rocket fire, using timers and other methods.

Hamas says it fired 10 rockets at Ofakim

Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades takes responsibility for latest volley of 10 rockets fired at southern town of Ofakim.

Unconfirmed reports say three of the rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome.

5 rockets downed by Iron Dome over Ofakim

Channel 2 reports five rockets fired by Hamas were intercepted over Ofakim by Iron Dome, one damaged a cowshed, and another landed in the open, causing no damage.

Abbas presses Qatar to get Hamas to accept ceasefire

PA President Mahmoud Abbas speaks with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and pressed him to convince Hamas to accept Egypt’s ceasefire, Channel 2 reports.

Gantz briefs IDF General Staff

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz briefs the IDF General Staff on the ground operation late Thursday night.

“Our forces will operate in close coordination, employing their full strength, both along the routes of deployment, and within the area itself, to achieve operation control in the area.”

Gantz adds that the IDF is doing “everything in our capacity with the appropriate force, as proud Israeli soldiers.”

“Good luck to us all.”

Watch footage of the briefing below–

Egypt condemns ground operation

Cairo comes out publicly against Israel’s ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

“Egypt condemns the Israeli escalation in Gaza and calls for self-control as its air strikes and ground operation only aggravate the situation and do not help preserve Israel’s security,” the foreign ministry said.

It said both Israel and Hamas must “immediately and unconditionally accept the Egyptian (ceasefire) proposal as it offers protection to the Palestinian people. It is the only way to halt the aggression and preserve the blood of our brotherly Palestinian people.”

Earlier Thursday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri criticised Hamas, saying it could have saved dozens of lives had it accepted Cairo’s ceasefire proposal presented earlier this week.

– AFP

Hamas claims IDF using asphyxiating gas

Hamas claims the IDF is using a white, asphyxiating gas in the Gaza Strip which has injured multiple Palestinians.

The report could not be independently confirmed.

UNRWA spokesman says communications cut

United Nations Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness says that he is unable to communicate with other UN colleagues in Gaza, and that thousands of Palestinians are taking refuge in UN installations.

Israel limits al-Aqsa access on Friday

Israel is to limit entry for Friday prayers on Temple Mount to men aged over 50 because of security fears. There will be no limitations on women praying at the al-Aqsa compound for tomorrow, the third Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

File photo of Muslim worshippers outside the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan in 2011. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

File photo of Muslim worshippers outside the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem during Ramadan in 2011. (photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)

PM’s goal is still restoring quiet, not ousting Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene the security cabinet, and then all ministers later Friday morning at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv to brief them on the ground offensive.

The decision to begin the ground offensive was taken after it became clear to Jerusalem that ceasefire efforts in Egypt were leading nowhere. The security cabinet approved a ground offensive in principle on Tuesday, after Hamas rejected that day’s Egyptian ceasefire proposal, Israeli diplomatic sources say.

The declared aim of Operation Protective edge remains restoring calm for the citizens of Israel, the sources say.

The prime minister’s goal is absolutely not the reconquest of the Strip and the ousting of Hamas, they add.

Israeli officials believe the restraint displayed by Netanyahu over the past 10 days has produced empathy and support overseas. The US did not want to see a ground offensive but did not seek to veto it, the sources say. There is also considerable support within the EU.

Sirens in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gan Yavne

Multiple intercepts are shown on live TV over Ashdod after rockets fired from Gaza send residents scrambling for shelter. Iron Dome intercepts 3 rockets in total.

 

Hamas tweets Quranic verse rallying faithful

As Israeli ground troops get underway with the second phase of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades tweets a verse of the Quran rallying the support of the faithful in the face of the enemy, enjoining them to place their faith in Allah.

“Those to whom hypocrites said, ‘Indeed, the people have gathered against you, so fear them.’ But it [merely] increased them in faith, and they said, ‘Sufficient for us is Allah , and [He is] the best Disposer of affairs,’” reads the Sahih International translation of the passage Hamas tweeted.

https://twitter.com/Qassam_Arabic/status/489900102795161600

The verse is interpreted to mean that “the strongest barrier against all the threats of the enemy is faith and trusting in Allah” and that Muslims ought not be “frightened by the hollow propagations of the enemy,” according to al-Islam.org’s online exegesis.

Gaza residents moving to lower floors

Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are moving down from the upper floors of their buildings to avoid possible IDF airstrikes, Channel 2 reports.

The coastal territory is packed with apartment buildings rising several stories high.

Sources say 3 dead in Rafah, 2 in Beit Hanun

Palestinians report that three are killed in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, and two in Beit Hanun in the north. It is unclear whether the dead were terrorists or civilians.

Rockets fired at Netivot

Details to come.

IDF captain tells soldiers, ‘It is our right to be free in our land’

The IDF releases footage of an IDF captain giving a last minute briefing to the company he commands before they go into the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t think I need to explain to you why we are doing what we are doing,” he says. “We are here in order to do what we trained for, and what we enlisted for — to protect the State of Israel, and to enable its right to exist in freedom, without them shooting mortars at us, and without us worrying about the families here on the border, and I am confident in what we are doing, because it is our right to be free in our land. It’s not a slogan, it’s the truth.”

Islamic Jihad official says ceasefire not close

Ziad Nahale, Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s second-in-command, says that a ceasefire is not close, Ynet reports.

“At this point, we are still running in place, and are in an initial stage,” he tells Lebanese TV from Cairo. “I cannot say there are signs that indicate a serious agreement at this moment.”

He also says that they are demanding that the ceasefire come with a lifting of the Israeli blockage on the Gaza Strip, and that they are pushing for changes to the Egyptian proposal.

IDF blows up senior Islamic Jihad man’s home

Palestinian sources say that Israeli troops destroy the home of Abdullah Sami, a senior Islamic Jihad commander, according to Ynet.

The home was in the Sajaiya neighborhood in the northern Gaza Strip.

Riot at Israeli consulate in Istanbul

A riot breaks out at Israel’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. One observer says demonstrators protesting Israel’s incursion into Gaza rip down Israeli flag and replace it with a Palestinian one.

Protesters have also started a fire at the building.

An AKP MK tweets that all his party’s legislators at the protest against “killer Israel,” says Turkish journalist Ilhan Tanir.

Another journalist says Turkish police push back crowds with tear gas and water cannons.

Abbas to visit Turkey, Gulf

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to visit Turkey Friday, followed by stops in Bahrain and Qatar, as he attempts to find a path to a Gaza ceasefire.

Hamas has indicated it wants to work on a ceasefire with Turkey and its primary patron Qatar, instead of Egypt, which treats Hamas as an adversary.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Gaza Health Ministry spokesman says gas claims false

Palestinian sources report that the Gaza Health Ministry’s spokesman admits that earlier accusations of Israel using a noxious gas on Palestinians are not true. Instead, he says, IDF troops dropped smoke shells to screen troop movements.

Earlier, on its Facebook page, the Health Ministry published  instructions for dealing with chemical attacks.

Turkish protesters chant ‘martyrdom’ in front of Israeli consulate

Rioters in front of Israel’s consulate in Istanbul are chanting, “Fight! Martyrdom!”

Police have pushed the crowd back at times, and many of the ruling AK Party MPs are in the crowd.

Palestinian UN envoy hopes to see truce within hours

The Palestinian United Nations envoy says he hopes “a very intensive negotiation” in Cairo might produce a ceasefire “in the hours to come” between Israel and Hamas.

Ambassador Riyad Mansour says in an interview with The Associated Press — soon after Israel was reported to have launched a ground invasion into Gaza late Thursday — that it “would increase and compound the number of casualties to a very exponential level.”

Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour addressing journalists after the Security Council meeting on Monday. (photo credit: UN/Devra Berkowitz)

Palestinian representative Riyad Mansour addressing journalists after the Security Council meeting this week. (photo credit: UN/Devra Berkowitz)

He says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with leaders from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Egypt and other many others and he understands that US Secretary of State John Kerry was on his way to Egypt.

“We hope for an agreement and ceasefire to take place as quickly as possible before shedding the blood of one additional single Palestinian soul,” Mansour says.

– AP

Hamas chief says Israel bound to fail

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal says Friday that Israel’s ground operation in Gaza is destined to fail, in remarks to AFP in the Qatari capital.

“What the occupier Israel failed to achieve through its air and sea raids, it will not be able to achieve with a ground offensive. It is bound to fail,” Mashaal says from his exile in Doha.

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza said earlier that “Israel will pay a high price” for launching the ground operation and that the Islamist Palestinian movement “is ready for the confrontation.”

Mashaal says Hamas has “clear demands,” including an end to “the aggression and collective punishment against our people in Gaza and in the West Bank, as well as the lifting of the Gaza siege.”

He insists that the “source of the problem lies with the Israeli occupation and the construction of settlements” which, he said, the Palestinian people are “determined to get rid of sooner or later.” He does not elaborate.

Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal displays a page purporting to prove that the kidnapped Israeli teenagers were soldiers, June 23, 2014 (photo credit: YouTube image)

Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal displays a page purporting to prove that the kidnapped Israeli teenagers were soldiers, June 23, 2014. (photo credit: YouTube image)

– AFP

Bulldozer damaged by missile, no injuries

An IDF D9 bulldozer is struck and damaged by an anti-tank missile in the southern Gaza Strip, according to the IDF.

No injuries are reported.

An Israeli D9 bulldozer rolls along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip following Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on July 10, 2014. (photo credit: Jack Guez/AFP)

An Israeli D9 bulldozer rolls along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip following Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip on July 10, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Jack Guez)

Maher catches flak for anti-Hamas tweet

Comedian Bill Maher, an outspoken supporter of Israel, tweeted Thursday that “Dealing w/ Hamas is like dealing w/ a crazy woman who’s trying to kill u – u can only hold her wrists so long before you have to slap her.”

Not surprisingly, plenty of his Twitter followers found the statement objectionable. Some accused him of being insensitive to deaths in the Gaza Strip, while others tried to paint him as an apologist for violence against women.

Warning sirens in Hof Ashkelon

Abbas warns that incursion will cause deaths

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says that Israel’s ground incursion into the Gaza Strip will bring bloodshed, Ynet reports.

Jordan calls for UNSC meeting on Gaza

Jordan calls for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council following Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.

Jordan’s UN mission says Thursday night that no time has been set yet for the meeting. The Security Council is already scheduled to hold an emergency meeting Friday morning on the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner in Ukraine.

Jordan is the Arab representative on the Security Council.

Thousands of Israeli soldiers have launched a ground invasion on the 10th-day campaign of heavy air bombardments to try to destroy Hamas’s rocket-firing abilities and the tunnels that militants use to infiltrate Israel.

Kerry tells PM to avoid escalation

Here is the American readout of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

“This afternoon the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who described the terrorist attack this morning near Kibbutz Sufa, and the imminent threat to Israeli civilians posed by Hamas tunnels from the Gaza Strip.

“The Prime Minister explained his decision to launch an operation to target the threat of further terrorist infiltration through tunnels into Israel.

“The Secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israeli Defense Forces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and US Secretary of State John Kerry arrive at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Flash90/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and US Secretary of State John Kerry arrive at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Flash90/Pool)

“The Secretary emphasized the need to avoid further escalation and to restore the 2012 cease-fire as soon as possible, reinforced our continuing commitment to the Egyptian initiative as the way to do so, and underscored the importance of Hamas accepting this plan as soon as possible.

“The Secretary also reiterated our concern about the safety and security of civilians on both sides and the importance of doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”

Gaza death toll hits 248

The death toll in Gaza hits 248 early on Friday as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of a massive operation to stamp out militant rocket fire.

The latest death includes a man in Sejaiyeh, east of Gaza City, raising Friday’s death toll to seven, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says.

Earlier, four people were killed by Israeli fire in several separate incidents in the southern city of Rafah, including a five-month-old baby, Qudra said.

In northern Gaza, two men were killed in a tank shelling in Beit Hanoun, he said.

According to figures provided by the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, more than 80 percent of the victims were civilians.

At least 1,920 Palestinians have also been wounded.

AFP

Sirens sound in Gaza border communities

Air force attacking near Khan Yunis

Israeli jets are carrying out raids in the area of Khan Yunis in the central Gaza Strip, Ynet reports.

IDF says 14 terrorists killed

Israeli forces killed 14 terrorists in action in the Gaza Strip overnight, the army announces.

In addition, the IDF says it hit 143 targets and six command centers.

Warning sirens in Ashkelon, Gaza border

Eshkol residents told to stay near shelters

Israelis living in the Eshkol Regional Council on the border with Gaza are told to remain within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter or safe room, Ynet reports.

2 soldiers lightly injured overnight

During ground fighting overnight in the Gaza Strip, two IDF soldiers are lightly hurt.

The IDF claims to have killed 14 armed terrorists.

Israeli soldiers seen on Merkava tank near the Gaza border in Southern Israel, on the tenth day of Operation Protective Edge, July 17, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Israeli soldiers on a Merkava tank near the Gaza border in southern Israel, on the 10th day of Operation Protective Edge, July 17, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

IDF strikes in Gaza City

IDF strikes in Gaza City, according to reports. There is no immediate report on casualties or the identity of the target.

Second rocket lands in Eshkol area

A rocket from Gaza explodes in the Eshkol Regional Council. It is the second rocket since last night to land in the area.

There are no reports of injuries or damage.

First IDF soldier killed in Gaza op

An IDF soldier is killed in Gaza, the first in Operation Protective Edge. Two more are moderately wounded.

Some 14 Hamas fighters are killed in the operation, according to the IDF.

IDF soldier may have been killed by friendly fire

The IDF says the soldier who was killed in Gaza may have died in a friendly-fire accident. The family has been notified.

Sirens in Hof Ashkelon, Ashdod

Cities near Gaza are sustaining a relatively light trickle of rocket fire as the Gaza ground operation continues.

Sirens are sounding in recent minutes in Ashdod and the Hof Ashkelon area.

About that firing of the deputy defense minister…

According to reports on Friday, the cabinet voted to approve the current ground operation already on Tuesday. It gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon the task of choosing the timing of the operation.

On the political side, this suggests that Netanyahu’s firing of former deputy defense minister Danny Danon came after the decision on the ground invasion — the sort of operation Danon had publicly demanded from the government in repeated criticism that led to his firing. That is, Netanyahu fired the loudest critic of his policy of restraint right before partially abandoning that policy in favor of escalation.

Netanyahu and Danon have sparred over control of Likud party institutions over the past year. Netanyahu appears to have avenged at least part of that challenge to his authority.

IDF hits 103 targets in overnight fighting

The Israel Defense Forces exposes and destroys some 20 concealed rocket launchers, strikes nine tunnels and hits 103 “terror targets” all told, it says Friday morning.

“Additionally, IDF ground forces are advancing in their respective missions, including identifying and combating the terror tunnel threat,” the IDF says in a statement.

The initial results “thus far fall in line with IDF expectations.”

The army says the goal of the Gaza op “is to establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety without continue[d] indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas’s terror infrastructure.”

Since the start of the ground op, the army counts some 50 rockets fired at Israel, 25 of which actually land inside Israel. Twenty are intercepted by the Iron Dome and a handful fail to make it out of Gaza.

An anti-tank missile also hit an armored bulldozer, the army says, damaging the vehicle but not the soldiers operating it.

Sirens sound throughout south

Sirens are sounding in cities throughout the south, in Beersheba, Ramat Hovav, Hatzerim, Dimona, Yeruham, Arad, Omer, Segev Shalom, and Nevatim, as well as Bedouin villages near those areas.

Summer camps are canceled throughout the south, municipal officials have said.

Palestinian death toll hits 260 in 11 days of fighting

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza hit 260 on Friday as Israel pressed a ground offensive on the 11th day of a large-scale operation to stamp out rocket fire, according to Al Mayadeen TV and other sources.

The latest Palestinian deaths were of two men from the Shami family at Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, according to emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra.

The deaths raised the toll on Friday to 19.

– Avi Issacharoff and AFP

Sirens sound in Ashdod, throughout south

Sirens are sounding in multiple areas in and around Ashdod, Be’er Tuvia, Gan Yavneh, Nitzanim and many small villages near Gaza.

Canada backs Israel’s ground operation

Canada says it fully backs Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself, expressing support for the army’s ground incursion into Gaza.

“Israel will be forced to continue defending itself as long as Hamas continues its rocket attacks against civilians,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

“These operations could have been avoided if Hamas had not rejected the government of Egypt’s ceasefire proposal — a proposal that was accepted by Israel and welcomed by the Palestinian Authority. This proves that Hamas has no interest in peace and bears responsibility for the further tragic loss of life.”

Egypt is the best-placed country in the region to help broker a ceasefire and end the current hostilities, Baird adds. “It is a historic leader in regional peace efforts, having successfully brokered numerous ceasefire agreements over the years, and Egypt’s ongoing initiative is the only serious ceasefire proposal on the table.”

– Raphael Ahren

IDF urges southern residents to avoid large gatherings

The IDF’s Home Front Command urges residents of the Gaza periphery to avoid large gatherings. No more than 300 people should be in a single synagogue at any one time over the course of the Sabbath. And residents should be aware, at all times, of the location of the nearest bomb shelter.

Cabinet briefing on Gaza op set for 11 a.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will brief the entire cabinet at 11 a.m. on the ground operation in Gaza. He will then meet with his security cabinet, the smaller group of eight senior ministers, at 1 p.m. at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

– Raphael Ahren

Rocket barrages continue, sirens sound in south

Sirens are sounding in the southern communities of Yad Mordechai and Netiv Ha’asara, as rocket barrages from Gaza continue Friday morning.

Disagreement seen between Hamas, Jihad over ceasefire

There are reports that unlike Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group Islamic Jihad — usually considered more extreme than Hamas — is willing to accept an Arab-brokered ceasefire of the sort Israel already agreed to earlier this week.

Hamas remains adamantly opposed to a ceasefire, even as ground fighting is taking place between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas forces in Gaza.

According to Army Radio, citing sources familiar with the ceasefire negotiations taking place with Egyptian interlocutors, Hamas is demanding the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing between Gaza and Egypt on a permanent basis.

Egypt, not Israel, has been resisting this demand. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, said yesterday that the agreement to open Rafah should be based on the 2005 situation, before Hamas’s takeover of the Strip, when PA security services manned the crossing and worked with Egyptian authorities.

Egypt is reportedly willing to open the crossing if it is placed in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has, thus far, been unwilling to accept this arrangement.

Four soldiers wounded in IDF Gaza op

Four IDF soldiers are wounded during the ground offensive into the Gaza Strip — one moderately and the rest lightly.

Three of the soldiers are hospitalized at Soroka Medical Center.

Abbas to hold joint press conference with Turkish president

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is set to hold a joint press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul at 5 p.m. local time, as efforts continue to reach a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Likud MK: Gaza ground incursion must go on

Likud MK Zeev Elkin, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, says Israel’s ground offensive into the Gaza Strip must continue as long as necessary.

Elkin tells Israel Radio that Hamas must emerge weakened from the confrontation with Israel and that no concessions should be made to the terror group.

Hamas must be forced to stop firing rockets and must be brought to a point where it is asking for a ceasefire, he says.

MK Zee'v Elkin (LIkud), chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in  the Knesset on Monday, May 12, 2014. (photo credit: Flash 90)

MK Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, in the Knesset, May 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Rocket lands in open terrain near Hof Ashkelon, no injuries

IDF rocket warnings go mobile

Israel has been warning its residents of impending rocket fire via sirens for years. Recently, apps have brought the siren warnings to cell phones.

Now, the IDF Home Front Command is beginning to send warnings directly to cell phones through a direct broadcast technology, one that will automatically broadcast to phones in an area without requiring an app.

The technology has been deployed for Android phones in Ashdod and the nearby towns of Nir Galim and Bnei Darom, and is expected to spread to other locales and operating systems.

Fields on Gaza border off-limits to Israeli farmers

The IDF says it is preventing Israeli farmers from approaching fields within three kilometers of the Gaza border, out of fear of mortar and sniper fire from Gaza as the IDF’s ground operation continues.

IDF publishes footage of night entrance into Gaza

The IDF publishes video footage of the nighttime entrance of IDF forces into Gaza. The speaker in the video is Brig. Gen. Nadav Padan, a commander of tank forces in the area.

IDF releases name of first soldier killed

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit says the first IDF soldier killed in Gaza is Eitan Barak, 20, from Herzliya.

The IDF is still examining the circumstances of Barak’s death, which, according to officials, may have been from friendly fire.

Soldier’s death reverberates on national radio

Army Radio is interviewing Sigal Vanunu-Gadish, a woman from Yad Mordechai, near Gaza, when the name of the IDF soldier killed in Gaza is released.

“I was 13 when we got the news that my brother was killed in the First Lebanon War,” she suddenly recalls. “That death has accompanied us for the past 32 years.”

Gadish has a son who will soon enlist in the IDF.

Sirens sound on Gaza periphery

Sirens sound in Nitzan, Nitzanim, Ashdod, Bnei Darom, Ad Halom, Azrikam and many nearby villages on the Gaza periphery.

Hamas shooting at Israel, but aims at Egypt

Our Palestinian affairs analyst Avi Issacharoff explains:

Hamas’s demands in the Cairo talks make it increasingly clear why the organization went to war. Hamas, it seems, initiated an escalation with Israel when its target was really Egypt. Hamas may have aimed its missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but Israel was ultimately a hostage in its effort to get closer to Cairo.

Hamas wants this in order to bring an end to the blockade on Gaza, open the Rafah border crossing, and in many ways to ensure its own survival.

Cairo might have no patience for the Palestinian group, treat it like an enemy for its deep connection with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and want to humiliate it, but its own regional standing is no less important. Cairo does not want to see the involvement of any other regional actor, not Turkey and certainly not Qatar

And still, as even senior Hamas officials admit, there is no other mediator in the region. Just like real estate agents who have a monopoly on a certain area, Egypt has a monopoly on Israel-Hamas relations.

‘Gaza will be a graveyard for IDF’

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri is not sparing in his bravado as IDF forces operate on the ground in Gaza.

“We are warning Israel against a ground war,” he tells the Al-Miyadin television channel. “This sort of operation will enable us to liberate our prisoners [through the capture of IDF soldiers and the ensuing exchange]. Gaza will be the graveyard of the occupation soldiers, and these are not slogans. Time will reveal [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s cowardice. He will pay the price.”

Asked why Hamas is unwilling to stop the rocket fire that drove the Israeli cabinet to vote for the ground operation, Abu Zuhri replied, “That sort of decision would continue the occupation for another 20 years, as Oslo did. In exchange for this blood [caused by the continued fighting], we will bring normal life to the Gaza Strip.”

IDF releases photo of Eitan Barak

Sirens sound in Sderot

Sirens are sounding in Sderot, Nir Am and nearby villages.

Canadian ambassador tweets up a pro-Israel storm

In a somewhat unusual move for a foreign diplomat stationed in Israel, Canada’s ambassador Vivian Bercovici is flooding Twitter with pro-Israel messages and posts attacking pro-Palestinian activists who agitate against Operation Protective Edge.

This morning alone, she posted 10 tweets, warning that Hamas aims to wipe out the Jewish state and deliberately targets civilians. In one tweet, she calls upon “activists” to read the terrorist organization’s charter and listen to its leaders. “They mean what they say,” she writes. Ask Hamas leaders why they use construction material to build “attack tunnels on Israel” as opposed to civilian shelters, she writes in a different tweet.

– Raphael Ahren

Rocket shot down over Ashdod

A rocket from Gaza is shot down by the Iron Dome over Ashdod as rocket barrages from Gaza continue.

First details emerge about Sgt. Eitan Barak

Army Radio reports the first details about Eitan Barak, 20, the first soldier killed in the ground operation in Gaza.

Barak studied at Herzliya’s Tichon Hadash, or New High School, and was an avid participant in water sports.

Barak has an older sister, 24.

Sergeant Eitan Barak, 20, from Herzliya was killed Friday, July 18, 2014 during Israel's ground offensive into Gaza. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's office)

Sergeant Eitan Barak, 20, from Herzliya, was killed Friday, July 18, 2014, during Israel’s ground offensive into Gaza. (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson’s Office)

He wanted to serve in a combat unit, so he joined Battalion 931 of the Nahal Brigade, one of the IDF’s five major infantry formations. Battalion 931 also saw two wounded in the first day of fighting. They were evacuated to Barzilai Hospital.

The Barak family is now gathered in its Herzliya home, together with many close friends and acquaintances, and Herzliya Mayor Moshe Fadlon.

Iron Dome shoots down seven rockets over Ashdod

Iron Dome batteries shoot down seven rockets over Ashdod in the past few minutes. Hamas is claiming responsibility for the latest major barrage to target the southern city.

Initial reports emerge of tactical situation in Gaza

Reports emerge from Gaza about the tactical situation.

According to sources, resistance from Hamas fighters was initially almost entirely absent, but has slowly grown after the initial incursion.

IDF tanks control the high ground throughout the IDF’s operational area.

Thus far, the IDF has avoided the densely populated areas of the Strip, but troops are set to begin searching the outskirts of urban areas for tunnels, a stage of the operation that may bring soldiers into greater contact with Hamas fighters and vulnerable Gaza civilians.

IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz has little to report on the first IDF casualty of the fighting, Sgt. Eitan Barak, 20, of Herzliya: “The circumstances of the incident are being checked. As soon as we know, we will publish the results.”

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery

A surge of rockets has been fired at the south of Israel this morning. The barrage continues, with sirens now sounding throughout the Gaza periphery.

Sirens sound in Ashkelon

Sirens are sounding in Ashkelon and surrounding areas.

US supports ‘precise operation’ against tunnels

US Secretary of State John Kerry tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the US strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself against threats posed by the Gaza tunnels dug into Israel. It also urges Israel to limit its ground operation to a precision offensive against the tunnels, the State Department revealed late Thursday evening, Eastern time.

In a statement following the Thursday afternoon phone call between Netanyahu and Kerry, State Department officials said that “the secretary reaffirmed [the US's] strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israel Defense Forces.”

In his conversation with Netanyahu, Kerry also reiterated US concern about the safety and security of civilians on both sides and the importance of doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

Kerry’s comments followed a strongly worded statement issued by State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki casting doubt as to whether Israel was really taking all steps possible to avoid civilian casualties.

– Rebecca Stoil-Shimoni

Gazans say IDF troops avoiding populated areas

Palestinian sources report from Gaza that IDF forces are avoiding penetrating deep into the densely populated territory.

One source explains that IDF tanks, which are reportedly deployed to hilltops in rural parts of the Strip, are not present on major roadways or inside populated areas.

“This is completely different from what we saw in 2008. There are almost no forces inside. Maybe a few hundred meters inside the border, but that’s it,” said the source. The observation was confirmed by additional sources who spoke to The Times of Israel from Gaza.

At the moment, the IDF is not attempting to enter deeper into the Strip, they say.

Gaza residents say there are firefights taking place between Hamas fighters and IDF troops.

– Avi Issacharoff

Sirens sound along Gaza’s southern border

Sirens are sounding in Kfar Aza and Kibbutz Sa’ad, near Gaza’s southern border.

Cabinet meets at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv

A special cabinet meeting is underway in Tel Aviv, at the IDF’s Kirya headquarters. After the meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to release a statement to the public.

IDF explains why tunnels are operation’s target

IDF releases footage of troop movements in Gaza

The video shows the slow, methodical movement of IDF troops in the Gaza Strip, confirming, even if circumstantially, reports from Gaza that troops are avoiding densely populated areas and resistance is minimal.

Netanyahu: IDF prepared for expansion of ground op

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggests that the ground operation in Gaza may be expanded soon.

“My and the defense minister’s instruction to the IDF, after the approval of the cabinet, is to prepare for a significant expansion of the ground operation. The chief of staff and the IDF are prepared accordingly,” the prime minister says in a statement at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu says Israel had no choice but to send in ground forces to counter the danger posed by Hamas’s tunnels, which he says cannot be addressed solely from the air.

He apologizes for any and all civilian deaths, stresses that “the IDF is a moral army,” and says Hamas is to blame for any harm to Gaza civilians who it uses as “human shields.”

He also says a “systematic diplomatic effort” has generated international understanding for Israel’s response, even though the conflict, as ever, is being presented “distortedly” overseas. “Our soldiers know there is no more justified purpose than the one for which they are fighting: to protect our homes,” says the prime minister.

This image made from video released by the Israeli military on Friday, July 18, 2014 shows troops after crossing into the Gaza Strip at the beginning of a ground offensive Thursday, July 17, 2014. Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels (photo credit: AP Photo/Israeli Defense Forces via AP video)

This image made from video released by the Israeli military on Friday, July 18, 2014 shows troops after crossing into the Gaza Strip at the beginning of a ground offensive Thursday, July 17, 2014. Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels (photo credit: AP Photo/Israeli Defense Forces via AP video)

‘Offensive limited to two kilometers from border’

Military sources are quoted saying that the ground offensive is currently limited to engagement with Hamas up to two kilometers from the border.

They also say the operation could last one to two weeks.

Gaza’s 11-day death toll reaches 264

The Gaza death toll hit 264 on Friday, AFP reports.

During the morning, medics in Gaza find the body of a man killed in a strike south of Gaza City, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra says, raising Friday’s toll to 23 dead.

Three teens were killed by tank fire in Gaza City.

Earlier, two men from the Shami family are killed in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

And four members of the same family are also killed in another strike on the city, he said.

Three more are killed by tank fire there.

Turkey condemns Gaza ground incursion

The Turkish foreign minister is “vehemently” condemning Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.

Using his Twitter account, Ahmet Davutoglu says the ground operation is testing “the conscience of humanity.”

Hundreds of protesters, meanwhile, pelt the top Israeli diplomat’s residence in Ankara with stones, and the Dogan news agency says police in Istanbul dispersed protesters trying to enter the Israeli Consulate grounds. Turkish legislators leaving a late-night debate in parliament also protested against Israel.

Davutoglu calls for emergency meetings of the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly spoken out against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and says the operations are derailing Turkish and Israeli efforts to mend ties.

Eitan Barak to be buried Sunday at 5 p.m.

The funeral of 20-year-old Sgt. Eitan Barak, the first IDF soldier killed in the Gaza ground operation, will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday in the military section of Herzliya’s Old Cemetery.

Three Gaza teens killed by IDF tank fire

Three teenagers are killed by IDF tank fire near the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun.

In all, 22 Gazans have died since the start of the IDF’s ground incursion on Thursday night at 10 p.m. local time. The IDF has said at least 14 of them are Hamas fighters.

The three adolescents killed Friday are members of the same family.

In east Rafah, IDF forces are reportedly working to clear debris and flora from fields in the area to begin searching for tunnels.

The IDF is also reportedly operating in rural areas near Khan Yunis.

Sirens sound in Ofakim

Sirens sound in Ofakim and surrounding villages. A rocket is located in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

Sirens sound in Yad Mordechai, Netiv Ha’asara

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery towns, including Yad Mordechai and Netiv Ha’asara.

PA sources see Hamas trapped by its own demands

Palestinian Authority sources say Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal has avoided traveling to Cairo to take part in the ceasefire talks.

According to the sources, Mashaal and Hamas are trying to avoid the Egyptian framework for a ceasefire, so Mashaal has not even spoken to Egyptian intelligence officials or Palestinian Authority leaders discussing the ceasefire.

Egypt is insisting that the negotiations over the conditions of the ceasefire must take place only after Hamas stops fighting. Egypt has refused to accept Hamas’s conditions, including the opening of Gaza’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt, as a precondition for the ceasefire, the PA sources tell The Times of Israel.

Khaled Mashaal speaks to CNN last month (photo credit: screen capture/cnn.com)

Khaled Mashaal speaks to CNN in October 2012 (photo credit: screen capture/cnn.com)

Egypt has informed Hamas that most of their conditions, particularly those related to Rafah and Gaza’s economic development, are addressed to Cairo, not Jerusalem, and therefore Hamas must end its fighting with Israel before negotiations with Cairo can begin.

The sources believe that Hamas is in a trap, since it cannot end the fighting at this stage without appearing to lose, while its long list of preconditions for the ceasefire have raised expectations among Gazans. If Hamas ends the fighting now, after 260 dead and 2,000 wounded in Gaza, according to Palestinian figures, the Gazan public will accuse it of dragging the beleaguered territory to a pointless, bloody adventure.

This fear has driven many Hamas supporters and fighters in Gaza to insist the organization not stop the fighting at this time.

– Avi Issacharoff

Rockets fired at Ashkelon area

Sirens sound in the Ashkelon industrial zone and Kibbutz Carmia as rocket barrages return to southern towns after a short noon-time lull.

IDF blowing up tunnels throughout Gaza

IDF forces reportedly blow up multiple tunnels in the areas in which troops are operating. Helicopter gunships are firing missiles at tunnel openings and at anti-tank and rocket-launching cells in the Strip.

A mosque containing a large cache of explosives was also attacked by IDF forces, the army says.

The fighting is currently going according to prepared battle plans, officials say.

Housing minister urges expansion of ground op into Gaza’s cities

“We can’t limit ourselves to blowing up tunnels,” says Housing Minister Uri Ariel. “Hamas will continue firing rockets. There is no escaping the need to bring quiet to Israel’s citizens.” And that will only be achieved “by a massive ground incursion… including to urban areas” the IDF has so far avoided.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz says the goal of the operation must be “to demilitarize Gaza from rockets and tunnels.”

‘Tunnels can only be dealt with on the ground’

Mitch Ginsburg explains the goals and challenges of the Gaza ground operation:

Addressing the tunnel threat, which Israel’s technology has yet to credibly counter, is only one part of the mission launched Thursday night. The other goal is to do that which was not achieved from the air — thinning Hamas’s ranks, depleting its rockets stores and, most significantly, squeezing the Islamist organization so that it comes back to the ceasefire talks with more reasonable demands.

The soldiers and commanders on the western side of the border, inside the Strip, though, cannot consider the application of political pressure and the nature of negotiations among their goals. They need concrete aims.

The first and likely most significant of these is the subterranean threat.

Unlike the rocket threat, which has been largely defanged by Iron Dome and early-warning systems, the ancient threat of tunnels has no technological solution as of yet. “We have no advantage in the underground realm,” says Brig. Gen. (res) Moshe Sheli, the former commander of the IDF’s combat engineering corps. On the ground, in the air, in the sea, he continues, technology offers the Israeli army a distinct edge. Underground, Israel employs a variety of means, “but they don’t give us a dramatic advantage, and that’s why this is such a hard challenge to crack,” he says.

Maj. Gen. (res) Israel Ziv, a former commander of the Gaza division and an officer who has argued against the re-occupation of Gaza, said Thursday that operating on the ground on the Gazan side of the border allows access to the entrance of a tunnel. “Around it there is a whole system,” he said. “Energy, oxygen, logistics — once you control the ground, you can fight in a more efficient way.”

Israeli soldiers watch the smoke trails of 155mm shells fired at targets in the Gaza Strip, at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, on July 17, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana)

Israeli soldiers watch the smoke trails of 155-mm shells fired at targets in the Gaza Strip, at an army deployment area near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, on July 17, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Menahem Kahana)

IDF exploring 5 sprawling Gaza tunnels

The IDF says it has exposed five tunnel complexes in Gaza, which are now “under comprehensive investigation.”

The army’s latest statement reads:

Dozens of terror tunnels are spread throughout the Gaza Strip, the majority of them constructed and utilized by Hamas. The Hamas tunnel network is highly developed and continuously preserved, interconnecting launch sites, rocket maintenance and command and control positions.

Since the beginning of the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge yesterday, July 17, approximately 5 of these terror tunnels have been exposed by IDF soldiers and are now under comprehensive investigation.

Offensive tunnels are complex and advanced, crossing the border from Gaza to Israel, with an agenda to enable terrorists to infiltrate into the Israeli home front.

Such tunnels, with openings deep within Israeli territory, are intended to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers alike; infiltrations into Israeli communities; mass murders; and hostage-taking scenarios.

In order to disable such capabilities and eliminate the possible threat, the IDF will continue on its course of action, targeting terror infrastructure, including tunnels, rocket launchers and impairing other terrorist capabilities.

Global media focus shifts from Gaza to Ukraine

The Malaysian civilian airliner that was shot down by a missile over Ukraine is the focus of the world media’s attention Friday, leaving very little ink and airspace for coverage of Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza. Nearly all Western news outlets are devoting their top stories to the plane crash, in which 298 people died, many of them Western nationals — and including at least one Israeli.

Flight MH17 was reportedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists with anti-aircraft missiles they received from Russia, but Moscow denies these allegations. The crash will also be the subject of an urgent United Nations Security Council session later on Friday.

– Raphael Ahren

Israel reduces diplomatic presence in Turkey

Israel drastically reduces its diplomatic representation in Turkey over security fears, while it protests recent statements from Ankara that accuse Israel of attempting “systematic genocide” against the Palestinian people.

After protests against Operation Protective Edge in front of Israel’s missions in Ankara and Istanbul turned violent, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman instructs Israeli diplomats stationed in Turkey to return home. “It was decided to reduce our diplomatic representation in the country to the minimum possible [footprint],” Lieberman says in a statement.

The violent protests broke out after inciting speeches by Turkish Prime Minister (and presidential hopeful) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and because the country’s security forces did not properly fulfill their duty to prevent violence during the events, Liberman charges.

Demonstrators throw stones at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, as they protest against Israel's military action in Gaza, on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

Demonstrators throw stones at the Israeli Embassy in Ankara, as they protest against Israel’s military action in Gaza, on July 18, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Adem Altan)

On Thursday, Erdoğan fiercely attacked Israel’s operation against Hamas in Gaza.

“Since [Israel’s creation] in 1948 we have been witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every day and every month,” he said. “But above all we are witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every Ramadan.”

Israel is vehemently protesting Turkish authorities’ blatant and rude violation of diplomatic rules during the protests, including the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Liberman adds.

– Raphael Ahren

Sirens sound near Ashkelon

Sirens sound in the Ashkelon industrial zone and in Kibbutz Carmia.

Abbas heads to Turkey for ceasefire talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is to head to Turkey on Friday to push a ceasefire in Gaza after Egyptian-mediated negotiations stalled and Israel launched a ground operation to counter Hamas rocket fire on Israeli cities.

Cairo has been the hub of intense negotiations to end the 11-day conflict between Hamas and Israel, after the Gaza-based group rejected an initial Egyptian truce proposal backed by the Arab League and agreed to by Israel.

Egypt, under recently elected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, has moved to isolate Hamas, accusing it of backing insurgents on its own territory.

A handout picture released by the Egyptian Presidency on July 17, 2014, shows Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo (photo credit: AFP/ HO/ Egyptian presidency)

A handout picture released by the Egyptian presidency on July 17, 2014, shows Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (right) meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo. (photo credit: AFP/HO/Egyptian presidency)

It has worked instead to bolster the role of Abbas — its ally based in the West Bank and rival to Hamas — in reaching a deal to end the conflict, which has cost more than 260 Palestinian lives since it broke out on July 8.

A senior official with Abbas said the talks, which extended into Thursday night, had stalled over Hamas’s insistence on the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Strip, the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing with Egypt and guarantees from Israel before it halts their cross-border rocket fire.

Amid the diplomatic flurry in Cairo, Abbas was due to meet French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius before heading to Turkey, which has ties with both Hamas and Israel, said the official, Azzam al-Ahmed.

– AFP

Sirens sound in Negev towns

Sirens sound throughout the Negev, including in Beersheba, Segev Shalom, Nevatim, Lahav, Meitar, Sansana, Kramim, and other southern towns.

Pope Francis calls to pray for Gaza peace

Pope Francis speaks to President Shimon Peres this morning, asking him to deliver a message of coexistence, moderation and peace to all the citizens of the region in light of the current security situation.

“This is a painful moment,” Francis says. “I am convinced that God brings us together in a prayer for peace, and please allow me to say it’s a prophetic gesture which, in some ways, will mark the future path…. We have to move forward and insist on this path of prayer for peace. I believe in prayer, in the power of prayer, and I believe in the hearts of men who are working for peace. I ask God for a quick solution and a political solution. I’m close to you with my prayers and thoughts.”

Pope Francis seen with President Shimon Peres at a ceremony held at the president's residence in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Pope Francis with President Shimon Peres at a ceremony at the president’s residence in Jerusalem, on May 26, 2014. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to a statement from the president’s residence, President Peres replies, “We are trying to do as much as we can to lower the flames, because we do not consider the people of Gaza as enemies. I know that the people of Gaza themselves didn’t decide on this situation that they find themselves in. There is a small group of fanatics who are the cause of suffering in Gaza.

“Our operation is aimed to bring an end to two killing methods — the rockets from the sky, and the tunnels from under the earth,” Peres says. “We have discovered two tunnels which were supposed to enable them to enter into the heart of civilian life and kill indiscriminately. Fortunately, we discovered it in time and prevented the murder. Right now, the main thing we are doing is to put an end to these tunnels and we are trying to see how to limit the confrontation, particularly with regard to the rockets, which they fire at our civilians,” he adds.

“I hope it will not be a long-lasting operation and I can assure you that our people are careful and will continue to be very careful not to cause damage and death to innocent people. We shall continue to search for a road to peace in spite of the fire and in spite of the failure to have a ceasefire, because finally the solution must be political and not just military,” he tells the pope.

Top French diplomat heads to region

France’s foreign minister is traveling to Egypt, Jordan and Israel as part of a diplomatic push to stop the fighting in Gaza.

The fighting has inflamed tensions in France, which has seen clashes at Paris synagogues and Jewish stores. France has western Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish communities, and a fringe of extremists on both sides have been involved in violence.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (photo credit: AP/Jean-Christophe Bott,Pool)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (photo credit: AP/Jean-Christophe Bott, Pool)

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says in a statement that he is going to the region to push for a ceasefire and lasting truce “that responds to Israel’s security needs and Palestinian economic needs.” He urges Israel to show “restraint,” calling it essential to protect civilian populations and avoid new victims.

A French diplomat says Fabius is heading Friday to Egypt, then will continue to Jordan and Israel.

– AP

Army says 17 Hamas fighters dead, 13 surrendered

The IDF says 17 Hamas terrorists died in clashes with IDF troops, while 13 more surrendered and were “taken for questioning.”

Masked rioters dispersed on Temple Mount

The Israel Police says it has dispersed masked Palestinian rioters on the Temple Mount. Rioters were throwing stones at police, according to the report.

No one was hurt in the incident.

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery villages

Sirens are sounding in Kfar Aza, Kibbutz Sa’ad, Nahal Oz and Kfar Maimon.

Rabbis call on Jews to visit Israel during crisis

Tzohar, a group of moderate Israeli Orthodox rabbis, issues a call for Diaspora rabbis and communities to visit Israel during the fighting.

“Israel and our people are in an et tzara — a time of crisis,” said the group’s chairman, former chief rabbi candidate Rabbi David Stav.

“The role of Jews all over the world must be to pray for the welfare of our soldiers and our people, but also to show your solidarity by choosing the next possible time to come and be with us.”

In a letter distributed to rabbis worldwide, Stav calls for demonstrations of support for Israel to come “not just through words but through action.”

The group even opens a special “Operations Center” to help Diaspora rabbis plan community trips to Israel.

Rabbis and community leaders interested in coordinating a mission can contact Rabbi Reuven Spolter at reuven@tzohar.org.il, the group says.

IDF tweets one tank crew’s success

The IDF’s social media operation is showing its mettle alongside the combat troops on the ground.

Sirens sound in Gaza periphery

Sirens sound in Nirim and Ein Hashlosha, following rocket barrages from Gaza throughout southern Israel in recent hours.

Sirens sound as rockets land in Eshkol region

Sirens are sounding as at least four rockets land in open areas in the Eshkol region near Gaza.

Police arrest seven in Temple Mount rioting

Police arrest seven East Jerusalem residents for taking part in violent riots on the Temple Mount earlier today.

Masked rioters threw stones at police, before being dispersed without injuries to either side.

Pope Francis also calls Abbas to urge peace

Pope Francis calls both Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas today “remind” them about the need “to bring an end to hostilities, [make] efforts to promote a truce, peace and reconciliation in the hearts of those involved,” says a statement from the Vatican.

An earlier press release from Peres’s office did not mention the pope’s call to Abbas.

“The Holy Father Francis personally telephoned President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas to share his very serious concerns regarding the current situation,” the statement says.

The Vatican says Francis considers Abbas and Peres to be “men of peace and seekers of peace” and tells them the conflict is “giving rise to a serious humanitarian emergency.”

Abbas and Peres attended an unprecedented joint prayer for peace with Francis in the Vatican Gardens last month, which followed the pope’s visit to the Middle East in May.

– AFP and Times of Israel staff

40 Palestinians injured in Old City riots

After barring entry to the Temple Mount complex to male Muslim worshippers under the age of 50, Palestinian journalists tell GlobalPost reporter Noga Tarnopolsky that 40 men were injured in riots in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Earlier Israel Police spokesperson said there were no injuries in the clashes between Palestinians and police, and that seven were arrested for throwing rocks.

Sirens in Eshkol, Sdot Negev regions

Injured soldier taken to Beersheba hospital

An IDF soldier suffered light injuries in combat in the Gaza Strip and has been evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment, Israel Radio reports.

Hamas ready for long haul, not ready for ceasefire

Channel 2 analyst Ehud Yaari says that Hamas has prepared for a long war and is not ready just yet to agree to a ceasefire with Israel.

Their losses until now are tolerable to them, and they are ready to keep fighting, he says.

IDF captures 13 Hamas terrorists in Gaza

Israeli forces have taken prisoner at least 13 Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip in addition to the 19 killed in gunfights with the IDF, Walla news reports.

Nine rockets were fired in the past hour from the Gaza Strip which impacted in open areas in southern Israel, inflicting no injury or damage, Israel Radio reports.

According to the IDF, Israeli forces have attacked 150 targets across the Gaza Strip since midnight, including 21 rocket launcher holes, four houses of senior terror activists, a munitions production site and four tunnels.

Injured Hamas fighter taken to Israeli hospital

The IDF tweets a photo of what it says is a Hamas operative injured in a firefight with Israeli soldiers that Israel has evacuated to a hospital in Israel for treatment.

It is not clear whether the injured Hamas fighter is included in the 13 currently held captive by Israel.

Sirens in Ashkelon, across towns near Gaza

Gaza Health Ministry says death toll rises to 271

Hamas Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra says the casualties in the Gaza Strip have risen to 271 killed and 2050 injured since the outset of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

Sirens in Netivot, Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol

At least one rocket is intercepted by Iron Dome over Netivot. There are no immediate reports of injuries in the latest barrage, but one house suffered some damage.

So far today, Hamas has fired some 80 rockets at Israel, the IDF says.

IDF captures Hamas fighters in Khan Yunis

The IDF captures multiple Hamas operatives in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis in possession of explosives and rockets, Ynet reports. According to Walla news, they said they are members of Hamas’s rocket launching unit and are now in Shin Bet custody.

An unconfirmed report says three IDF soldiers suffered light injuries after coming under fire from an antitank missile in the Gaza Strip. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit says it’s investigating the report.

Sirens in greater Tel Aviv area

Erdogan’s charges ‘chutzpah,’ says Israeli minister

Transportation Minister Israel Katz calls Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s charge that Israel has perpetrated “systematic atrocity and state terror” against the Palestinians since 1948 “chutzpah,” because the Turkish government has refused to acknowledge the Turks’ complicity in the Armenian genocide.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the parliament in Ankara, July 15, 2014.  (photo credit: AFP/ADEM ALTAN)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the parliament in Ankara, July 15, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/ADEM ALTAN)

Rockets intercepted over Tel Aviv

At least five rockets are reported intercepted over the skies of Tel Aviv after sirens went off in the greater metropolitan area. No injuries or damage are reported.

Israel wants UN to publish pics of rockets in Gaza school

Israel plans to demand from the United Nations to publish photos of the weapons found in a Gaza school operated by its Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a diplomatic official in Jerusalem says.

Israel plans to disseminate these images to bolster its assertion that Hamas is hiding missiles in schools, the official says. Hamas also fires rockets at Israeli school, the official adds. “Two schools were already hit, in Ashdod and in Rishon Lezion.”

On Wednesday, some 20 rockets were found in a vacant UNRWA school during a regular inspection. UNRWA condemned those responsible for hiding the weapons there, without naming which group is responsible.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said Thursday that it expects the UN and the international community to condemn and “to act strongly against this brazen violation of international humanitarian law, which endangers children and UN humanitarian activities.”

Raphael Ahren

IDF finds 13 more tunnels

Givati Brigade soldiers have found 13 of Hamas’s tunnel shafts in the Gaza Strip, Ynet reports. This discovery brings the total to over 20 tunnels found in the past day.

Rocket hits house in Gan Yavne

A rocket hits a building in the southern town of Gan Yavne, near Ashdod, causing damage to the house but inflicting no injuries.

Security Council to hold emergency session on Gaza

The UN Security Council was set to meet for an emergency session Friday on the situation in Gaza, following the launch of an Israeli ground operation, diplomats say.

The meeting — called at the request of Jordan and Turkey — was due to begin at 3:00 p.m. (1900 GMT).

Meanwhile, the United Nations says that the number of Gaza displaced ‘almost doubles’ in the past 24 hours.

PM sets up shop in Tel Aviv’s Defense Ministry HQ

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is planning to welcome the Sabbath in the Kirya, the Defense Ministry’s headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he is holding meetings throughout the day. In fact, Netanyahu has been spending most of his time there since the Gaza campaign started, “in order not to trouble the officers” stationed there who regularly update him on the situation, the official says.

Last Friday night, the prime minister also stayed late in Tel Aviv before returning to his official residence in Jerusalem, making Kiddush (the traditional Shabbat benediction) together with soldiers at the Kirya. They were joined by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

This Friday afternoon and evening, Netanyahu is scheduled to conduct several telephone conversations with world leaders to discuss Israel’s perspective on the current situation in Gaza.

Furthermore, an additional meeting is planned between all Israeli government bodies dealing with hasbara, or public diplomacy, to “ensure that our message is being heard in Israel and the world,” the official says.

Earlier on Friday, Netanyahu said that he had spoken to many world leaders even before Operation Protective Edge commenced. “I explained to them the impossible situation the State of Israel was facing and our need to defend our people. Since then, through constant, methodical diplomatic and media activity, we have been creating the international space – which is not self-evident – so that we can take systematic and strong action against this murderous terrorist organization and its terrorist partners.”

The prime minister on Friday also spoke with the heads of the opposition parties in the Knesset, updating them on details of Operation Protective Edge, the official said. “The operation’s objective was and remains restoring calm to Israel’s cities for a long time, and a significant hit against terror infrastructure in Gaza. The IDF will be given the time and the resources needed to meet these goals,” the official says, adding that both the military and the diplomatic ways to achieve the campaign’s goals are being considered.

Raphael Ahren

Rocket damages Gan Yavne kindergarten

Police say the rocket that exploded in Gan Yavne moments ago struck next to a kindergarten, damaging the building, and also damaged the neighboring synagogue.

Woman injured by rocket in Gan Yavne

Channel 2 reports that in the latest rocket attack in Gan Yavne a 40-year-old woman suffered light injuries from flying glass, and several others suffered from shock.

Putin, Rouhani discuss Gaza

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke over the phone Friday and discussed the Gaza Strip, the Russian President’s Office says.

“The two presidents discussed the escalation in the crisis underway in the Gaza Strip following the start of ground operations by Israeli troops,” the office says in a statement. “Both sides called for a speedy end to the armed conflict and the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

As Netanyahu speaks with Obama, sirens ring out

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with US President Barack Obama and a siren sounds in the middle of their conversation.

Netanyahu tells Obama that “this is the reality for millions of Israelis in recent days,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu also tells Obama that Hamas is using civilians as human shield in Gaza, as was shown yesterday when 20 rockets where found in a school run by UNRWA.

“Therefore Hamas is responsible if residents of Gaza are being hit,” the prime minister tells the president.

He thanks Obama for America’s support of Israel’s right to defend itself and for helping develop the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Sirens in Ashkelon

Obama urges Israel to minimize civilian casualties

President Barack Obama is encouraging Israel to try to minimize civilian deaths in its ground push into Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Obama says he talked to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday about the Gaza operation and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself. He told reporters at the White House that no nation should accept rockets being fired into its borders.

Associated Press

IDF tank kills three Hamas gunmen

Hamas gunmen fired an antitank missile at an Israeli tank, but the projectile was intercepted by the tank’s Trophy active defense system, Ynet reports. In response, the tank fired on the building the gunmen were hiding in, killing three. Israeli forces found a stockpile of antitank weapons inside the structure.

3 IDF troops hurt in missile strike on Gaza border

Three IDF paratroopers were lightly injured when an antitank missile struck their jeep, which was operating along the border fence with the Gaza Strip. The three were taken to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for treatment.

Tel Aviv flight almost empty as Gaza fighting rages

A Reuters journalist says that Operation Protective Edge is taking its tolls on Israeli tourism. The plane he landed on was “largely empty,” he says on Twitter.

Planes approaching Ben Gurion International Airport now take evasive measures over the Mediterranean Sea on their approach, and traverse the coastal plain — rather than Tel Aviv — before landing.

Livni explains decision to back ground op

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who was the sole cabinet member who didn’t immediately back a ground operation on Tuesday, explains in a Channel 2 interview that she was prepared to approve it only in real time, which she did on Thursday after the Israeli negotiation team returned from Cairo with Hamas’s rejection of a ceasefire proposal, and the failed Hamas infiltration attempt that morning. “I fully support this operation,” she says.

After those two incidents, she says, she realized that “Hamas lives in a completely different opera.”

Strikingly, she does not rule out bringing down Hamas as a possible consequence of the resort to force. Israel is intent on restoring security for its people, she stresses, and will do some one way or another. “I’m not taking anything off the table,” she says.

Livni (head of the centrist Hatnua) adds that Israel can say to the family of Eitan Barak, the solider who died in combat in Gaza early Thursday morning, that “he died defending the homeland” after all other measures to prevent this conflict had been tried and failed.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni speaks to Channel 2 on Friday July 18, 2014. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni speaks to Channel 2 on Friday July 18, 2014. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Turkey president says Israel trying to divide Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Turkish President Abdullah Gül make a joint statement in Istanbul in which Gül charged that Israel is attempting to undermine Palestinian national unity and prevent the formation of an independent state by invading Gaza.

Gül expresses his support for the Palestinian cause and says Ankara is pushing for a ceasefire.

“Our priority is to reach a ceasefire, stop the bloodshed and send humanitarian aid to people in Gaza suffering from the Israeli embargo,” Gül says.

Gül warned Israel earlier in the day that “if they don’t stop attacks on Gaza, the consequences might be heavier.”

Abbas urges France to help pressure Hamas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urges France to help lobby Hamas’s allies Qatar and Turkey to pressure the group into accepting a truce with Israel, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says, according to AFP.

Abbas met with Fabius at Cairo airport before leaving for Turkey.

“There can be influences that I hope can let Hamas accept the [Egyptian] ceasefire that it has refused,” Fabius says.

Fabius adds that he called Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah to discuss the ceasefire.

“He said that in his view, Hamas hopes for there to be negotiation points before a ceasefire, especially relating to the blockade [of the Gaza Strip],” Fabius says.

Gantz: We’re setting back Hamas’s terror infrastructure by years

IDF Chief Benny Gantz tells Israeli media: “We are widening the ground operation… We began it yesterday evening, powerfully, on several fronts. We have achieved numerous successes to date — hurting the enemy, and exposing its infrastructure.

“We intend to carry on, and expand it, and adapt it as needed,” says Gantz. “There’ll be close conflict, there’ll be difficult moments.”

He concludes: “Hamas and the other terror groups in Gaza are taking heavy, continuing blows. Years they’ve spent building up their force — rockets, missiles, planning terror attacks, tunnels — all of this is being smashed by the capabilities of Israel, of the IDF.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (Photo credit: Flash 90)

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (Photo credit: Flash 90)

IDF says soldier Eitan Barak probably killed by errant tank fire

IDF Spokesman Moti Almoz says Eitan Barak, the Israeli soldier killed overnight in Gaza, was likely hit by IDF fire.

The ground operation requires “close coordination between infantry forces and tank units,” he says. It seems, he adds, that this [incident] was a mistake by one of the tanks, that opened fire and killed Eitan Barak. We send our deep condolences to the family. We will continue to learn the lessons.”

20-year-old Eitan Barak, who killed overnight Thursday during IDF activity in the Gaza Strip. (Photo credit: Flash90)

20-year-old Eitan Barak, who killed overnight Thursday during IDF activity in the Gaza Strip. (Photo credit: Flash90)

Almoz also says that the IDF has today found nine terror tunnels of the kind through which the foiled infiltration into Israel yesterday was carried out.

As Almoz is interviewed, sirens wail. Three rockets are intercepted by Iron Dome over central Israel, the latest in some 30 rockets fired at the Tel Aviv area so far today.

Sirens in greater Tel Aviv area

Two rockets are intercepted over the greater Tel Aviv area after sirens warn residents of attack. No reports of injuries or damage.

Paramedics treat five in Tel Aviv after rocket attack

Four people are being treated for shock by Magen David Adom paramedics in Tel Aviv after a rocket barrage was fired at the city, and a fifth person is being treated after falling off a motorcycle, Channel 2 reports.

It’s not immediately clear whether there was a rocket impact in the greater Tel Aviv area.

Five Palestinians killed in northern Gaza

Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra says five Palestinians were recently killed, including a woman and child, in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

The UNRWA spokesperson says that over 47,000 Palestinians have been displaced in the Gaza Strip, a figure which has doubled in the past day. They have taken refuge in the UN refugee agency’s shelters and schools.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is about to convene a meeting to discuss the violence in the Gaza Strip.

UN chief to head to region for solidarity with Israel, Palestine

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will fly to the Middle East on Saturday to meet Israelis and Palestinians and “to express solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians” amid the conflict in the Gaza Strip, Undersecretary General Jeffrey Feltman says at a Security Council meeting.

He condemns the “indiscriminate rocket fire” by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, but says the secretary general is “alarmed by Israel’s heavy response” by launching a ground invasion of the territory. He calls the placement of rockets in an UNRWA school a “flagrant violation” and calls for an investigation.

UN envoy: Israel’s hand forced in Gaza op

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor addresses the UN Security Council and says that Israel’s hand was forced in moving into the Gaza Strip after the murder of three Israeli teens, relentless rocket attacks and Hamas’s rejection of ceasefire proposals.

“I want to be clear – our forces are fighting in Gaza, but they are not fighting the people of Gaza,” he says. “There is no country in the world that would tolerate such an assault on its citizens and Israel should not be expected to either.”

“After three rounds of major assaults and over 12,000 rockets in nine years, it has become clear that Hamas is not interested in bringing quiet to Gaza,” Prosor says. He adds that the rockets found in an UNRWA school are only “the tip of the iceberg.”

Kerry says US backs Egyptian ceasefire initiative

Secretary of State John Kerry met Friday afternoon with a group of American Jewish community leaders in New York to discuss both the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas as well as the upcoming July 20th deadline for negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.

According to officials from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Kerry noted the administration’s continuing support for the Egyptian initiative as the way to achieve a return to the 2012 ceasefire.

The delegation of Jewish leaders, many of whom have visited Israel since the onset of continuous Hamas rocket fire two weeks ago, expressed appreciation for American assistance that made possible the Iron Dome missile defense system. They also noted the support of the United States for Israel to take the steps necessary to defend its citizens and end the constant barrage that has seen more than 1,000 missiles hit Israel in recent days.

They urged the United States to continue to press the international community to stand by Israel, arguing that Israel has demonstrated remarkable restraint and gone to unprecedented lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil

As we enter Day 12 of Operation Protective Edge

So we come to the end of the first full day of Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza, with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz saying Hamas terror is being set back years, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni not ruling out bringing down Hamas if that’s what it takes to restore security for Israel’s citizens.

Mahmoud Abbas is trying to broker a ceasefire, the UN secretary-general and other would-be ceasefire brokers are heading this way, but there’s no sign that Hamas is interested in a truce.

We’ll close this liveblog now; our colleague Yifa Yaakov has started Saturday’s liveblog here. Good night from Jerusalem.