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Netanyahu warns Gaza ground offensive could grow significantly

July 18, 2014 at 6:26 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another crisis spot, the Middle East, where Israeli officials now say their ground offensive in Gaza could last two weeks. Palestinian health officials reported more than 30 Gazans killed since the attack began overnight. And one Israeli soldier died.

Our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Margaret Warner, has the latest.

MARGARET WARNER: Israeli tanks kept rolling across the Gaza border today, the first full day of the offensive, with a steady stream of heavy fire.

The military said it hit at least 150 targets, including rocket launchers and tunnels that Hamas militants use for cross-border raids, and for moving and storing weapons. The assault began overnight, hours after the Israelis said they foiled an attempted cross-border commando attack on a kibbutz using just such a tunnel.

Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation is essential and could expand.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister, Israel (through interpreter): Since it is impossible to deal with the tunnels only by aerial means, our troops are also dealing with it on the ground. Here as well, there are no guarantees for total success, but we will do the utmost to achieve the best result. My instructions to the IDF are to prepare for the possibility of significantly widening the ground operation, and the chief of staff and the military are prepared accordingly.

MARGARET WARNER: The Israelis say they have met little resistance, s far. But the main Gaza hospital said it was overwhelmed with casualties, including children.

And a Hamas spokesman insisted it will strike back.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI, Hamas Spokesman (through interpreter): Netanyahu is killing our children, and he will pay the price. The Israeli offensive doesn’t fear the leaders in Hamas or the Palestinian people. And we in Hamas guarantee that the occupation army will sink in the mud of Gaza.

MARGARET WARNER: The militants did fire fresh rocket barrages into Israel today, and the Israelis answered with more airstrikes. In Washington, President Obama voiced U.S. support for a limited operation.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Our understanding is, the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels. And we are hopeful that Israel will continue to approach this process in a way that minimizes civilian casualties, and that all of us are working hard to return to the cease-fire that was reached in November of 2012.

MARGARET WARNER: Immediate prospects of a long-term cease-fire seemed to dim.

Still, on a visit to Turkey, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he hopes an Egyptian-designed truce remains possible.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian National Authority (through interpreter): We hope this takes place soon, so we can preserve Palestinian blood. We want to bring an end to the destruction of Palestinian land. We want to bring a stop to this and to have an independent state, like the rest of the world and the rest of the world’s citizens.

MARGARET WARNER: Around the world, the Israeli ground offensive prompted protests. Demonstrators turned out in Bangladesh, Jordan, South Africa, Venezuela, and Turkey.