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Smoke and flames rise after Israeli forces launched air attacks on the Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli forces launched air attacks on the Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021. (Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images)

IDF 'Willfully' Misled Media About Ground Invasion to Lure Gaza Fighters Into Tunnels: Report

The Israeli military spokesperson's office communicated directly with reporters just after midnight Friday, claiming a ground invasion was underway.

Julia Conley

Even as fresh fears surfaced of a looming ground invasion by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza emerged Friday morning, reporting indicated that members of the international media were "willfully" misled just hours earlier when the IDF falsely announced overnight it had begun ground operations as a ruse to lure Palestinian resistance fighters into more vulnerable positions for targeted bombings.

At 12:17 a.m. Israel time on Friday, according to Haaretz, the IDF spokesperson's unit sent a WhatsApp message to several foreign correspondents, telling them ground troops were headed into Gaza—a major escalation beyond the IDF's bombing campaign which has killed at least 119 people including 31 children and injured at least 830 people as of Friday.  

The spokesperson's English department also tweeted, "IDF air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip," leading news outlets including the Washington Post and ABC News to report the escalation. 

Instead of a ground invasion, however, Hamas fighters faced another air attack aimed at the so-called "Metro," a network of underground tunnels beneath the Gaza Strip. The IDF soon began a major blitz of targets in Gaza, including the tunnels, with 160 warplanes dropping approximately 450 bombs, according to Haaretz.

Military representatives took more than an hour to correct the reports of a ground assault. 

According to Haaretz, "Emerging social media reports say that the IDF's report of a ground incursion was intended to draw Hamas militants into the organization's underground tunnel network, which were then targeted in heavy airstrikes, using the military's direct line to international journalists as a means of attack against Hamas."

The IDF said Friday it was still assessing how many people were killed in the assault, and spokesperson Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman claimed the military's reports of a ground invasion directly to the media were not intentional. 

Zilberman told Israel's Kan Radio that there "could have been a mistake" in how his office described the IDF's plans for the late night attack, but members of the media scoffed.

"To be clear, [International IDF Spokesperson] Jonathan Conricus told me directly, 'there are ground troops in Gaza.' That was the basis for a first story saying so," tweeted Felicia Schwartz, Israel and Palestine correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, after correcting a report she wrote about the IDF's stated plans of attack.

One American journalist based in Israel told Haaretz that the WhatsApp message sent from Conricus to the press just after midnight Friday was "awfully transparent" and could damage IDF's credibility and relationships with the media. 

"The idea that they misled people only in English, that Conricus personally said it was so, without any caveats or promises to check, and the timing right before a big attack on the tunnels," the reporter said. "On the other hand, they may figure that foreign press is so dependent on them, what does it matter?"

The United Nations said Friday that dozens of Gaza residents had fled their homes overnight to seek refuge in U.N. emergency shelters. The bombing campaign also caused severe damage to Gaza's electricity networks.

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