TIME The Netherlands

Anguish in Amsterdam as Families of Flight MH17 Passengers Arrive at Airport

Official says 154 people from the Netherlands were on board the flight bound for Kuala Lumpur

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Updated 4:55 a.m. ET Friday

The relatives started arriving at Schiphol Airport as the sun began to set on a warm Amsterdam evening. They gathered briefly, bewildered, at a bar area inside the departure hall before police ushered them onto airport shuttle buses to an undisclosed location in the airport, where they would start their anguished wait for news of family members they feared lost on Flight MH17.

Some of the men and women were tearful and clung to each other; most looked shell-shocked, staring blankly ahead as the buses pulled out, seemingly unable to process news of a tragedy apparently caused by a conflict so far away. Dutch reporters who arrived at the scene early said there were scenes of confusion when the first relatives arrived, unsure of where to go and asking passers-by for help.

Airport officials were also initially at a loss to direct the television crews and journalists who came from all over the world, with a press conference delayed by hours. When a Malaysia Airlines executive and an airport official finally appeared to talk to the media, they offered words of comfort for relatives, but little information about the cause of a crash deep in a conflict zone in Ukraine.

“Our main priority is to look after people who are suffering at the moment,” said Huib Gorter, senior vice president for Europe for Malaysia Airlines. “You cannot imagine what has happened to these people … All our manpower is dedicated to helping them.”

A full passenger list of the 298 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was not released, but a gasp went up from the Dutch press when Gorter announced that 154 people from the Netherlands were on board. There were also 27 from Australia, 43 from Malaysia (including crew and two infants), 12 from Indonesia (including another infant) and others from Europe, the Philippines and Canada, according to a statement posted Thursday by Malaysia Airlines.

For those relatives who wish to travel closer to the site of the tragedy, a flight will be provided to Kiev, possibly departing tomorrow. But Gorter also spoke about the difficulty in reaching the crash site, which is about seven or eight hours by road from the Ukrainian capital. Asked if it was safe for the plane to be flying over a war zone, he said: “It is classified as a safe area to fly over, otherwise in our industry we would not be able to file a flight plan over an area that is dangerous.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a helpline for friends and relatives, while the Dutch airliner KLM – which was on a code-share agreement with the Kuala Lumpur–bound flights – announced they were suspending flights over Ukraine “as a precautionary measure.” Air France and Lufthansa have also both suspended flights through Ukrainian air space.

Joss Wibisono, an Indonesian journalist and author based in Amsterdam, says his aunt, Jane Adi Soetjipto, 73, was among the passengers who died aboard flight MH17. “Every year Aunt Jane visited the Netherlands to see her mom” and other family members, says Wibisono.

Wibisono and his extended family are Indonesian immigrants who have lived in the Netherlands for decades. On Wednesday morning, the family took Soetjipto and her friend to Schiphol Airport: “She flew back to her home country [Indonesia] with her close friend, Aunt Gerda Lahenda,” Wibisono says, adding his aunt’s seat was 14A and her friend’s 14C. Both women had been in the Netherlands since April.

In the late afternoon when Wibisono was preparing to watch Tour de France, he saw a news announcement on TV about the Malaysia Airlines plane that had been downed in eastern Ukraine. “I immediately knew it was Aunt Jane’s flight,” he tells TIME. He contacted her family in Jakarta and also called Soetjipto’s sister who lives in a small town in southeast Holland. “They didn’t know, and became hysterical,” Wibisono says. “I am very shocked. I couldn’t sleep.”

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, flew back from a European Union summit in Brussels, saying he was “deeply shocked by the dramatic reports on the crash.” His Justice and Security Minister, Ivo Opstelten, said there were “victims from many countries.” On Friday morning, Rutte called for an investigation into the crash that killed mostly Dutch passengers. “The next of kin of the 154 Dutch victims and all the other nationalities have the right to know what happened,” Rutte said, according to the Associated Press.

“The images that you and I have seen are of course terrible,” he was quoted as saying by Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. “I am aware that this investigation cannot go fast enough, but everyone at this time is doing everything possible to inform family and friends.”

Germany has called for an independent investigation into the cause of the crash. “The separatists must immediately grant emergency and security services access to the crash site and an independent, international investigation must commence immediately,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. “I’m horrified … with hundreds of completely innocent people having died in this terrible way, words fail you.”

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok

TIME Ukraine

Why Was MH17 Over Eastern Ukraine, Anyway?

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-AVIATION-MALAYSIA
A picture taken on July 17, 2014, shows the wreckages of the Malaysian airliner carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur after it crashed, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine. Alexander Khudoteply—AFP/Getty Images

Some flight routes takes planes over dangerous places

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was hardly alone in the skies over eastern Ukraine when it was apparently shot down on a route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Airline routes are like highways—there’s a lot of traffic on them. And there were other flights from other airlines in the Ukraine corridor, including an Aeroflot jet that was making its way from Sheremetyevo to Moscow on a route that sliced a south-north path across eastern Ukraine. Within hours, though, the air control radar over Ukraine looked empty.

No aircraft belonging to any American carriers seem to have been in the area. Earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration had issued a security advisory warning U.S. airlines against flying over Crimea, the scene of a Russian takeover in that country’s dispute with Ukraine. But the Malaysian flight was north of that zone. Still, some airlines are already voluntarily deciding it’s a good idea to stay away from the spot Flight 17 went down. “Out of an abundance of caution, Delta is not routing flights through Ukrainian airspace,” Delta said in a statement Thursday, for example.

But why were so many others in a hot area in the first place? Because it’s a conflicted, crowded and mobile world. With increasing numbers of ever longer long-distance flights, commercial airlines are constantly crossing contested borders and territories. It’s not just Ukraine that has border issues. It’s Georgia and South Ossetia, and Moldova and Transdniester. And that’s just in one region.

U.S. carriers can’t avoid the friction, either. The airlines, as a rule, don’t comment on the specifics of their security programs. But they rely on the State Department and the FAA for security information to make their choices. For instance, Baghdad was once on the flight path of some India-bound flights, a route that would be adjusted based on conditions on the ground. Today, Tel Aviv is another airport that is obviously near a conflict zone, and no U.S. airline has stopped serving that market, so rerouting is fairly common.

“Our dispatch and security people are constantly looking at the troubled areas we fly through,” one pilot told TIME.

The downing of an aircraft at 32,000 ft. is a dimension not considered since Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot out of the sky by a missile fired by a Russian fighter jet in 1983. After that tragedy, U.S. carriers purportedly tested missile avoidance technology, but it’s not clear that any of them have gone beyond that. Malaysia Flight 17 may put the issue back on the radar.

TIME Ukraine

Watch: Ukraine’s Airspace Emptied Out After MH17 Crashed

Ukraine Air Space
Flightradar24

Airlines had previously avoided Ukrainian airspace as well

After MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, air traffic data suggest that more and more flights that weren’t Ukraine-bound began to skirt around the country’s borders.

Flight patterns appeared to shift towards a path along Ukraine’s eastern borders hours after MH17′s burning debris was located in eastern Urkaine, as seen in the image to the side. That’s according to Flightradar24.com’s air traffic data at 20:00 UTC from July 17, compared to the data from July 10 and July 3. The circumventions coincided with several airlines’ announcements, including Delta, Lufthansa and Aeroflot, that they would re-route planes to avoid Ukrainian airspace.

Even though what the Federal Aviation Administration deemed unsafe airspace over Ukraine didn’t include MH17′s crash site, many airlines in fact had already re-routed flights, skirting the country’s eastern border. Flights operated by Aeroflot, for example, that normally took a straight-line path from Sochi to Moscow—passing almost exactly over Hrabove, where MH17 crashed—had begun to tilt northeast to avoid entering Ukrainian airspace as early as May, according to Flightradar24′s historical flight records for SU1131.

SU1131′s flight path on May 14, 2014. Flightradar24.com

SU1131′s actual flight path is shown in purple above.

 

 

 

TIME

Malaysia Airlines By the Numbers

It's been a bad year for the company

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This has not been a great year for Malaysia Airlines. The company has been under scrutiny, following the loss of two planes, one over Ukraine and the other disappearing over the Indian Ocean.

The airline is relatively small airline compared to its U.S. counterparts, with a fleet of 151 planes operating over 300 flights per day. It’s been operating since 1972.

Here’s a breakdown of all the numbers you need about the carrier.

TIME foreign affairs

Flight MH17: What the Wreckage Is Already Revealing

Once investigators find the chemical signature of the device, they will be able to tell with great certainty what kind of explosive caused the damage — and very likely where that charge was manufactured and by whom.

With the crash of another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, this one in eastern Ukraine, aviation accident investigators are again asking the same big questions as in any disaster: What happened and why did it happen? In the case of the disappearance of MH370 this spring, the answer at this point on both counts is that no one knows. This will not be the case with MH17. We already know a lot about what happened — if not why.

To start with the obvious, we already know where the airplane is. Searchers, many of them local residents, began finding wreckage the bodies of the victims almost immediately after the crash.

The location of the wreckage holds easy clues to what happened. It might also hold some elusive ones.

The operating theory is that a ground to air missile took out MH17 while it was in cruise flight at its assigned altitude, now being reported as 33,000 feet. The evidence we already have corroborates that theory. When an airplane crashes into the ground under power or as the pilots are trying to regain control, the scattering of the wreckage is always very contained, usually within an acre or so.

In this case, large parts have already started turning up miles away from each other, and that can only mean one thing: that the airplane broke apart at altitude and its parts descended on the currents of the wind until they impacted the earth. The higher the airplane was when it came apart, the more widely scattered the wreckage will be. We can conclude that MH17 came apart at a very high altitude. And it came apart very violently. I have seen a photograph of the floor structure of the airplane, torn apart at the metal structural ties, capable of withstanding many tens of thousands of pounds of force, resting in a field in rural Ukraine. The section in question weighs likely around 10,000 pounds. It’s not the kid of component that breaks off and flutters away. It was blown apart from the rest of the structure.

It is possible for aircraft structures to fail during an explosive depressurization, and that indeed did happen in the early days of jet aviation, most notably with the British built de Havilland Comet jet, which suffered a series of fatal pressure vessel failures due to metal fatigue. The Boeing 777, however, is a modern and exceptionally strong plane, one that is based on modern computer aided design calculations that take just such events into consideration, making it nearly impossible for one failure to lead the next until the airplane comes apart. That is not what happened here.

The only explanations that make any sense given the widely scattered wreckage and the degree to which the airplane came apart are that it was hit by a missile — the working theory among authorities now — or that a bomb went off inside the airplane.

The difference between those two events will be immediately apparent to investigators once they see the wreckage. An explosion leaves an unmistakable fingerprint, telling forensics specialists where the explosive went off and whether that blast originated from inside or outside the aircraft.

Then, once they find the chemical signature of the device, they will be able to tell with great certainty what kind of explosive caused the damage and very likely where that charge was manufactured and by whom.

The traces of such an explosion will be unmistakable. Investigators will be able to test quickly for certain classes of explosives, but even before that they will likely be able to see the characteristic high-speed pitting of surfaces exposed to the explosive forces. When TWA Flight 800 crashed over Long Island Sound in 1996, investigators were able to determine that the explosion was the result of a fuel explosion and not an explosive device planted in the plane or a missile fired from below.

Investigators looking into what happened to Flight MH17 will be able to make the exact same types of determinations as well. Because the wreckage is in plain sight — and not sunken in a body of water — they will be able to make those determinations very quickly and turn the investigation over to others who are more interested in who did it and tracking them down.

Robert Goyer is the editor-in-chief of Flying magazine.

TIME Ukraine

Blame Game Unfolds After Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash

A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it a "terrorist action."

Updated 7:55 p.m. EST

Ukrainian officials blamed a “terrorist action” for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday, while pro-Russian separatists, who said they do not have weaponry advanced enough to shoot down an airliner, accused Ukrainian forces of causing the crash.

The Boeing 777 was flying at around 33,000 feet over eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed, killing all 298 people on board. That updated number, revised from 295, came from a Malaysia Airlines statement posted late Thursday, and reflects that there were three infants aboard the flight. The nationalities of those aboard, per the airline, break down as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 8.25.54 PM

An adviser in Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said on his Facebook page that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made radar-guided missile system known as the BUK. Ukrainian officials have denied that Ukrainian military forces were involved.

“MH-17 is not an incident or catastrophe, it is a terrorist attack,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted.

On Thursday, Oleg Tsarev, one of the leaders of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, told TIME that the separatists don’t have the weapons to reach the altitude at which the plane was flying.

But as TIME’s Simon Shuster reports, Russian state media congratulated rebels last month for seizing BUK missile launchers from a Ukrainian air force base. This week, separatists shot down a military transport plane and reportedly brought down two other military aircraft–Ukraine said at least one was downed by an air-to-air missile, suggesting a Russian jet was to blame. And on Thursday afternoon, Russian media claimed the rebels had brought down yet another Ukrainian military plane over the town of Torez, just prior to reports that MH17 was shot down in the same area.

According to Eurocontrol, the agency that manages European air traffic, Ukrainian authorities had previously barred airliners in the area from flying below 32,000 feet. Authorities have now closed routes of all altitudes in the area, Eurocontrol said Thursday.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday afternoon that the plane has “apparently been shot down. Shot down not an accident. Blown out of the sky.” Biden, who spoke with Poroshenko after the crash, said earlier in the day that the U.S. was sending a team to help investigate.

Also on Thursday, President Barack Obama said he was still working to determine whether there were Americans on board. Obama was on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding newly imposed U.S. sanctions on Russia as news of crash emerged, and the White House said the crash came up in the conversation.

The Federal Aviation Administration was in contact with US carriers following the crash of Malaysian Air Flight 17, the agency said Thursday. The FAA confirmed that carriers have voluntarily agreed not operate in the airspace near the Russian-Ukraine border, and is monitoring the situation to determine whether further guidance is necessary.

French President President François Hollande called for an investigation into the cause of the crash of Flight 17, which was carrying at least four French nationals, according to that country’s foreign ministry. France has advised airlines to avoid any routes through Ukraine.

—With reporting by Zeke J. Miller

TIME Ukraine

Past Attacks on Commercial Airliners

Smokes rises from wreckage of South Korean Air Boeing 747 at the crash site at Agana in Guam on August 6, 1997.
Smokes rises from wreckage of South Korean Air Boeing 747 at the crash site at Agana in Guam on August 6, 1997. Choo Yuon-Kong—AFP/Getty Images

If Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was accidentally shot down, it would mark the deadliest such incident. But not the first.

Ukrainian officials have blamed separatist rebels for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, possibly mistaking it for a Ukrainian aircraft. The separatists have denied the allegations—and in turn suggested Ukraine was responsible.

If the airliner, reported to have 295 people on board and flying at 33,000 feet, was indeed shot down, it would mark the deadliest such incident ever. But it wouldn’t be the first time an airliner has been accidently or recklessly shot down.

Here are some of those disasters, including one in 2001 that was also linked to Ukraine:

2001

Siberian Airlines Flight 1812

The airliner was flying at roughly 35,000 feet over the Black Sea, en route to Russia from Israel, when it was struck by a Ukrainian missile. Investigators later concluded that Ukrainian air defense forces had fired two missiles during a major military exercise: one hit the targeted drone, the other continued 150 more miles and appeared to lock-on to the Siberian Airlines flight. All 78 people aboard were killed.

1988

Iran Air Flight 655

In the midst of the Iran-Iraq war and with tensions high between the U.S. and Iran, the U.S. Navy said it mistook the Iranian passenger plane, an Airbus 300, for a hostile fighter jet. After issuing several warnings, the missile cruiser Vincennes fired two surface-to-air missiles, at least one of which struck the Dubai-bound plane at 7,500 feet over the Straight of Hormuz, killing all 290 people on board.

1983

Korean Air Lines Flight 007

A Soviet interceptor shot down the Boeing 747 en route from New York to Seoul with 269 people aboard, including U.S. Representative Lawrence McDonald. Soviet officials believed that the airliner, which had crossed into Soviet airspace, was on a reconnaissance mission. Everyone on board was killed.

1978

Korean Air Lines Flight 902

Navigational equipment on the Paris-to-Seoul flight malfunctioned, leading the pilot to fly into Soviet airspace above the Arctic Circle. Soviet forces, believing it to be a reconnaissance flight, fired on the Boeing 707, forcing it to make an emergency landing near the Finnish border, killing two. The Soviet Union later charged the South Korean government $100,000 for its rescue operation, but the bill went unpaid.

1973

Libyan Airlines Flight 114

The Cairo-bound Boeing 727 was apparently disoriented by poor weather and crossed over Israeli-occupied Sinai, which had been declared a war zone. Amid reports of terrorist plans to use a civilian airliner against Israel, the country scrambled interceptors. The fighter jets issued warning signals that went unheeded—an investigation later reportedly found that the French pilot believed the jets were Egyptian escorts—and then shot it down, killing nearly all of the roughly 115 people on board.

1955

El Al Flight 402

The flight between Vienna and Istanbul en route to Israel strayed into the airspace of Bulgaria, then an Eastern Bloc country. The government scrambled its fighters, which shot down the Lockheed Constellation, killing all 58 passengers and crew on board. Bulgaria later issued a formal apology, saying its pilots had been “too hasty.”

TIME Ukraine

Rebels Control the Crash Site Of Downed Malaysia Plane

The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
The site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash is seen near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

MH17 crashed in territory controlled by the rebels. They're looking for the flight recorders and say they'll send them to Moscow

The Malaysia Airlines flight apparently shot down on Thursday over eastern Ukraine crashed in a kind of no man’s land. The central government withdrew from that patch of territory months ago, leaving it to the bands of separatist fighters who now represent the only figures of authority around the crash site. One of their first orders of business, their leaders say, will be to recover the flight recorders from flight MH17 and hand them over to their allies in Moscow. “High-class experts work there,” Andrei Purgin, one of the top rebel commanders, told local media hours after the crash. “They will be able to establish the cause of the catastrophe for sure.”

But that plan may not sit well with the families of the passengers – nearly 300 of them are feared dead – nor with the foreign governments whose citizens have perished in the crash. Since the armed rebellion began in eastern Ukraine this spring, Moscow has been accused of aiding the rebel fighters, providing them with weapons, volunteers and political cover, while the Russian media has cast them as heroes and Russian patriots. The crash of flight MH17 has left the rebel leaders scrambling to deny all involvement in shooting it down, and now they may be in control of important sources of evidence that might help determine the cause of the disaster. Without the permission of the rebels, it would be impossible for any outsiders even to recover the remains of the victims.

So far the militants claim to be guarding the site. But Sergei Kavtaradze, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed separatist government, said that the wreckage could be bombed from the air at any moment. “We have received intelligence that an explosive rocket strike could hit the crash site very soon in order to alter the scene and destroy clues,” he told Russia’s leading news agency, RIA Novosti. “We call on the international community to help pressure the Ukrainian side, so that all military actions around the fallen plane stop.”

The Ukrainian government, for its part, has condemned the downing of the plane as a “terrorist attack” and called for an urgent investigation, with President Petro Poroshenko urging the International Civil Aviation Organization and foreign governments to send delegations to help. “All possible search and rescue operations are being carried out,” he said in a statement on his website.

But it is not clear what operations he meant. The town of Torez, where flight MH17 reportedly fell, is deep in the heart of rebel territory, and the Ukrainian authorities cannot even reach it without first forcing the separatist fighters to retreat from the area. At the recent pace of fighting, that could take days if not weeks, allowing the rebel commanders plenty of time to remove the flight recorders and otherwise manipulate the crash site.

The simplest solution, like so much about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, would seem to wind through Moscow, which could encourage the separatist leaders to allow investigators to access the scene. But until then, it will remain under the control of the very people who may have caused the tragedy in the first place.

TIME Israel

Missiles from Lebanon are Landing in Israel—But Hizballah Isn’t the Suspect

Israeli security forces stand next to damage caused by Katyusha style rocket fired from Lebanon near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on July 11, 2014.
Israeli security forces stand next to damage caused by Katyusha style rocket fired from Lebanon near the border between northern Israel and Lebanon, on July 11, 2014. JINI/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Lebanon's most fearsome anti-Israel militant group has stayed out of the Gaza crisis. That could change if Israel overreacts to rockets coming from Lebanon

Israel has a lot of enemies in the region, so it’s not surprising that it is taking fire from multiple sides—including from southern Lebanon, the source of at least four missile launches into northern Israel in recent days. What is surprising is that none of those attacks originated from Israel’s archenemy Hizballah, the powerful Lebanese militia that dominates the country’s south.

Some 11 rockets landed in Israeli territory. No one was hurt. At least two failed to launch, according to Lebanese military accounts quoted in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, and one never made it into Israel. Not far from the United Nations-monitored Blue Line that demarcates the border between Lebanon and Israel, Lebanese bomb defusers. were able to dismantle two other rockets before they could be launched. All in all, the rocket attacks appear to be the work of amateurs driven to action by the Israeli attacks on Gaza, says Lebanese political analyst Kamel Wazne, and not that of an organized militant group. “If Hizballah decided to launch a war on Israel, well, Israel already knows what that looks like,” he says. (Hizballah has not commented on the attacks.)

On Wednesday July 16, the Lebanese military announced that it had apprehended two Palestinian brothers who had admitted to launching one of the attacks, as well as a Lebanese man who was implicated in the first rocket volley on Friday. Since the attacks started Friday, the Lebanese army has engaged in a concerted effort to prevent any further cross-border attacks by increasing patrols in the area and reaching out to the U.N. peacekeepers that have been in place in south Lebanon since the 2006 war between Israel and Hizballah. Lebanon, including Hizballah, does not want to see another war with Israel, says Wazne. “There is a consensus in Lebanon that no missiles should be launched from Lebanese territory, and that these acts do not serve the Lebanese interest or the Palestinian cause.”

One of the three detained men appears to be affiliated with a radical Lebanese group, al-Jamaa al-Islamiya that has gained ground among Lebanese Sunni militants aligned with rebels fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Hizballah, in turn, backs Assad. The attackers, say Wazne, could have been motivated by a desire to deflect Israeli attention away from Gaza and towards Hizballah in an effort undermine the group’s support for Assad. Meanwhile Hamas, the Palestinian militant group battling Israel from Gaza, has also claimed responsibility for an attack from Lebanon, but it is not clear that it could have achieved such a feat, considering its limited presence on the ground.

All of which begs the question: why isn’t Hizballah getting involved in the Gaza conflict, which intensified on July 17 as Israel announced a ground invasion of the enclave? For a militant group whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, uses every opportunity to decry what he calls Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, Hizballah has been remarkably quiet since Israel launched its operation in Gaza a week ago. Hizballah’s standard rhetoric is that it is always ready for another confrontation with Israel, but it is just as likely that the militant group is keeping a low profile in order to better focus its efforts on Syria.

It’s not that Hizballah couldn’t handle two fronts at once, says Wazne, who has close contacts in Hizballah’s leadership. He believes the group is keeping a close eye on the events in Gaza, but as long as Israel does not attack Lebanon, it sees no need to get involved. The real risk, he cautions, is if Israel overreacts to the missiles being lobbed over the Lebanese border. Israel has met every incoming rocket with a barrage of its own into south Lebanon, but so far there has been no casualties or damages on either side. Lebanese Foreign Affairs minister Gebran Bassil threatened to lodge a complaint with the U.N. Security Council over Israel’s excessive response against Lebanon. “Someone is trying to use Lebanon as a launching pad to respond to Israel over events in Gaza. This is not the policy of the state, and it is taking measures against these sporadic groups.” he told reporters Tuesday. “But that doesn’t mean Israel can attack Lebanon.”

If it does, notes Wazne, Hizballah will be ready.

TIME Israel

Israel Launches Ground Invasion of Gaza

Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014.
Smoke from flares rises in the sky in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 17, 2014. Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

After days of bombing and rocket attacks between Israel and Hamas

Updated 5:58 p.m. EST

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip Thursday along with heavy air bombardment, according to a statement on his Facebook page. Netanyahu’s statement indicates the purpose of the operation is to destroy “terror tunnels” linking Gaza and Israel.

“The Prime Minister and Minister of Defense instructed the [Israeli Defense Forces] to open this evening the ground operation to harm terror tunnels penetrating the Gaza Strip into Israel,” the post reads, translated from Hebrew. “Hamas terrorists used such a tunnel of terror early this morning to infiltrate Israel, with the purpose of carrying out mass attacks against Israeli civilians.”

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) also posted the news about “Operation Protective Edge” on its official Twitter account:

According to the posts, the intent is to destroy the tunnels linking Egypt and Gaza and thus strike a “significant blow to Hamas’ terror infrastructure.” Israel sent out warnings to Palestinians in Gaza telling them to evacuate target areas, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A Hamas spokesperson told CNN that Israel “will pay a heavy price” for the operation. Hamas has responded with rockets from across Gaza city.

The latest wave of violence between Israel and Hamas began last month, after three Israeli teens were kidnapped and later found dead. Israel arrested dozens of members of Hamas who it suspects to be tied to the murders. A Palestinian youth was later found dead in an apparent revenge killing. Israeli authorities have arrested six Israelis in connection to the Palestinian’s death.

Thursday’s invasion comes after 10 days of conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza with rockets, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel. The fighting looked to be coming to a close several days ago, though Hamas rejected an Egyptian cease-fire plan soon after Israel accepted the terms. Hamas leaders said the plan was “not worth the ink it was written with” without more concessions from Israel.

The invasion is Israel’s first ground operation in the Gaza Strip since 2009′s “Operation Cast Lead.”

Thousands of Israeli soldiers have gathered at the border in the last few days waiting for the order to go in. Israel says the troops and tanks began to move just hours after Hamas militants attempted to infiltrate Israel through a tunnel but were stopped by the IDF, according to the Associated Press. Hamas said the men were on a reconnaissance mission and returned to Gaza unharmed.

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