Tensions in Israel and Gaza are mounting as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears ready to order a ground invasion after Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire failed and Hamas fired a rocket at Jerusalem.
The international community, led by Britain and the United States, is discouraging Israel from escalating what American officials described as a “very, very dangerous situation.” The British government warned that an invasion of Gaza could cost Israel international support.
Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, told CNN that a ground invasion could occur before the end of the weekend if rockets from Gaza continue to strike Israeli soil.
“We don’t want to get into Gaza if we don’t have to. But if they keep firing at us ... a ground operation is still on the cards,” he said. “If we see in the next 24 to 36 hours more rockets launched at us, I think that would be the trigger.”
Israeli officials said they struck more than 800 targets in the Gaza Strip during 180 airstrikes between Friday night and Saturday morning. The Associated Press reported that officials in Gaza confirmed roughly 500 rockets had been launched at Israel.
The White House reported that President Obama reiterated his support for Israel’s right to self-defense to Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, while stressing the need to de-escalate the conflict. Morsi denounced Israel’s attacks as “a blatant aggression against humanity” and said Cairo “would not leave Gaza on its own.”
Palestinians launched waves of rocket attacks on Israel throughout early November, most of which caused neither damage nor injuries. On Nov. 14, the Israel Defense Forces assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari while he was driving through Gaza City. The latest waves of more than 500 rockets from Gaza, which killed three Israelis late this week, came in response to Jabari’s killing.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels used to smuggle in weapons, fuel and food from Egypt, people in the area reported. An explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 30 miles (45km) away, an Associated Press correspondent there reported.
Six people, including five militants, were killed and dozens wounded in the various attacks on Saturday, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. In all, up to 40 Palestinians including 13 civilians and three Israeli civilians had been killed since the Israeli operation began, according to AP. Palestinians said their dead included at least eight children and a pregnant woman.
Neither side appeared to be attempting to pull back as Israel killed a commander in the Hamas military wing, Ahmed Abu Jalal. Militants in Gaza kept up rocket attacks, including the firing of one Hamas said was aimed at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem which fell several miles short of the city. Israeli officials called that attack an “escalation”.
Smoke rises after an Israeli strike in Gaza on Saturday.