Thousands of Israeli troops backed by columns of tanks and helicopter gunships launched a ground offensive in an operation, known as Cast Lead in Gaza Saturday night, with officials saying they expected a lengthy fight in the densely populated territory after eight days of punishing airstrikes failed to halt militant rocket attacks on Israel.
The night sky over Gaza was lit by the flash of bullets and balls of fire from tank shells. Sounds of explosions were heard across Gaza City, the territory's biggest city, and high-rise buildings shook from the bigger booms. As the ground troops moved in, Israel kept pounding Gaza with airstrikes. F-16 warplanes hit three targets within a few minutes, including a main Hamas security compound.
Witnesses in Gaza said that in the first phase, Israeli ground forces had moved several hundred yards inside Gaza. Israeli security officials said initial clashes with militants took place in open fields and soldiers did not immediately move into Gaza's crowded cities, where warfare would likely get much deadlier.
The incursion set off fierce clashes with Palestinian militants and Gaza's Hamas rulers vowed the coastal strip would be a "graveyard" for Israelis forces.
In the airborne phase of Israel's onslaught, militants were not deterred from bombarding southern Israel with more than 400 rockets -- including dozens that extended deeper into Israel than ever before. They fired six rockets into Israel in the first few hours after the ground push began.
One rocket scored a direct hit on a house in the southern city of Ashkelon earlier Saturday and another struck a bomb shelter there, leaving its above-ground entrance scarred by shrapnel and blasting a parked bus.
Israel called up tens of thousands of reservists in the event Palestinian militants in the West Bank or Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon decide to exploit the broad offensive in Gaza to launch attacks against Israel on other fronts.
The air war has killed more than 480 Palestinians. Four Israelis have been killed by rockets.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia...
Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi said Muslim countries should form their own peacekeeping force to send to the Gaza strip,.
He said, the Muslim peacekeeping force should come under the auspices of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
Indicating that it was time for OIC member countries to set up our own peacekeeping forces to handle disputes such as civil wars or even invasions by major powers in Islamic countries, Zahid added that he would put the proposal to the Prime Minister (Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi), who is the chairman of the OIC, during the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.