Israeli ground troops entered Gaza last night in what military officials described as the “next phase” of their operation against the coastal enclave’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
The move, which spokesmen said was specifically aimed at targeting tunnels, comes after early reports of a ceasefire raised earlier in the day were dashed after renewed fighting.
After a brief cessation in hostilities to allow aid in, air raids and rockets resumed later in the day, despite senior Israeli negotiators in Cairo having approved a full truce, with a final decision lying with the security cabinet.
The deal, which BBC sources in Israel said amounted to a “comprehensive ceasefire,” was due to take effect at 6am Friday.
Earlier, Hamas presented its conditions, including: the opening of all crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip; opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt for 24 hours, with international guarantee it will not be closed; naval access in Gaza; permission for Gaza residents to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem; release of the prisoners freed in the Shalit swap and then rearrested; improved conditions for Palestinian imprisoned in Israel.
It comes after 227 Palestinians have died in Operation Protective Edge, launched on 8 July, in response to rockets fired from Gaza. One Israeli has also died and several wounded.
The latest round of violence saw Israel accuse Hamas of hiding military infrastructure within the civilian population and of redirecting civilians back into houses earmarked for destruction – a claim backed up by surveillance footage.
Hamas meanwhile has accused Israel of war crimes. International pressure has steadily increased in response to instances such as Wednesday’s killing of four Palestinians children playing hide and seek on a Gaza beach.
With tens of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the conflict, the UN’s relief operation said it was stepping up emergency work, providing water, food and hygiene kits.