Israeli soldier dies in ground invasion

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli soldier died several hours after being critically injured in a mortar attack inside the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the ground operation.

More than 30 Israel Defense Forces soldiers have been injured, two seriously, since the ground invasion began Jan. 3 with a column of troops marching into northern Gaza, following a day of heavy Israeli shelling near the border with artillery cannons. Four Israeli soldiers suffered minor gunshot wounds Sunday night and were evacuated to Israeli hospitals.

At least 50 Hamas terrorists have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza.

The ground operation came several hours after IDF artillery cannons bombarded Gaza with hundreds of shells. It was the first time in three years that Israel has used artillery cannons against Gaza, Ynet reported.

According to the IDF, the ground operation’s objective is to destroy Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and to take control of the areas from which rockets are being fired into Israel. The IDF has raised the level of alert for military forces in other areas of the country, according to a statement from the IDF spokeman’s office.

The ground incursion was approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a meeting Jan. 2.

 "The decision to embark on the ground phase of the operation was taken following in-depth consideration," Barak said during an address to the nation and the media shortly after Israeli troops entered Gaza. "We have carefully weighed all our options. We are not war hungry but we shall not — I repeat, we shall not allow a situation in which our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined."

"We seek peace," Barak said. "We have restrained ourselves for a long time but now is the time to do what needs to be done. We are determined to afford our citizens what any citizen anywhere in the world is entitled to — peace, tranquility and freedom from threats."

The IDF began calling up thousands of reservists, the majority from combat units, a large number from the Homefront Command, and some from other supporting units, according to the IDF spokesman’s office.

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