Gaza City Under Attack

Israeli troops and tanks moved into the Gaza Strip’s densely populated capital city from three directions today, drawing Hamas fighters into combat in an offensive expanded by a new deployment of army reservists.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The assault on Gaza City coincided with a predawn missile barrage that set 20 homes ablaze in a southern Gaza village. Scores of residents suffered burns and gas inhalation, witnesses said. Doctors who treated the victims said they suspected Israel had fired white phosphorus shells, which can be used to illuminate the nighttime battlefield or to lay down a smoke screen.

Plumes of black smoke rose over Gaza City as Israeli ground forces backed by helicopter gunships inched into neighborhoods on the capital’s southwestern, eastern and northern edges before dawn.

Tall apartment buildings shook from the force of Israeli artillery and airstrikes, and Hamas fighters answered with mortars, automatic rifles and grenades. It was the heaviest fighting since Israel attacked the Palestinian enclave Dec. 27, saying it wanted to halt years of rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities.

Troops withdrew from Gaza City after several hours, leaving it unclear whether Israel’s leaders had ordered an all-out assault on Hamas’ central stronghold. A decision to escalate the offensive would bring in tens of thousands of Israeli reservists, who were called up late last month, into a what would likely be close combat, with sharply higher casualties.

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