GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battled Hamas militants in Gaza on the second day of a ground operation Saturday, as the Palestinian death toll from the 12-day offensive topped 300, a Gaza health official said.
Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said overnight airstrikes killed 12 people, raising the death toll from the offensive to 310 Palestinians. An Israeli soldier was killed after the start of the ground operation, and an Israeli civilian was killed earlier this week.
The sound of tank fire and heavy machine guns mixed with the mosques’ morning call to prayer along the Gaza-Israel border. The Israeli military said three soldiers were wounded in overnight fighting, one seriously. Israeli troops were staying close to the border and have yet to enter heavily populated areas.
Israel launched the ground operation late Thursday after hundreds of airstrikes on the Hamas-ruled territory failed to halt unrelenting rocket fire that has increasingly targeted major Israeli cities.
An Egyptian truce proposal was rejected by the Islamic militant group Hamas, which has ruled the strip since 2007 and has demanded the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade as part of any cease-fire agreement.
Israeli officials say the offensive is aimed at destroying both rocket launchers and Hamas tunnels dug into Israel, and that it could last up to two weeks. The military reported making steady progress, uncovered 13 tunnels, but said dozens remain and would not give a time frame for its operation.
Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, visited troops on the Gaza border early Saturday and said “a strategic national patience is necessary” to complete the mission.
Gaza militants have fired more than 1,500 rockets at Israel over the past 11 days, and rocket fire continued overnight. Israel has launched more than 2,000 airstrikes over the same period.
Gaza militants have remained defiant despite the rising death toll.
“The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip will not surrender to the enemy and will not raise the white flag,” Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhala told a Palestinian radio station.
“We are open to all possibilities as long as the enemy does not respond to the demands of the resistance.”
Heller reported from Jerusalem.