By: Calev Ben-David and Saud Abu Ramadan
July 8, 2014
Israel struck 150 targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and authorized the call-up of 40,000 reservists as it weighed a possible ground operation to quell weeks of Palestinian rocket fire into its territory.
Gaza emergency services chief Ashraf al-Qedra said 14 people, including three children, were killed today as Israel’s offensive expanded. Targets included senior Hamas operatives as well as militant facilities, the military said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with top security officials at military headquarters in Tel Aviv and directed them to conduct an extensive and lengthy offensive that includes the option of a ground incursion, according to an official who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to comment on record. Stocks dropped to their lowest in almost four months and the cost of insuring Israel’s debt with credit-default swaps rose.
The air and naval offensive is Israel’s biggest in Gaza since November 2012 and follows almost a month of rocket fire and retaliatory air strikes. Violence escalated after the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks in April and the killing of teenagers on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We are preparing a campaign against Hamas that will not end in just a few days,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in an e-mailed statement. “We will not tolerate rocket fire at Israeli communities and we are prepared to expand the campaign by every means at our disposal.” Hundreds of rockets were fired at Israel in the past four weeks, including at least 130 today, the military said.
Israel has already called up 1,500 reservists to boost the regular infantry and paratroop forces stationed along the Gaza border. Approval by an inner cabinet to mobilize 40,000 was confirmed by a Defense Ministry official who wasn’t authorized to comment on record.
Israel last sent ground troops into the territory in a 2009 operation in which more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.
“Israel wants war,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
“There are continuous air strikes on our people, an open war on innocent civilians, women and children,” Abu Zuhri said on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television. “Israel wants to turn things around and hide the truth.”
Among the targets Israel hit today were command centers, rocket launchers, training bases, a car and at least four homes of Palestinian militants, according to an e-mailed statement from the army. Al-Qedra reported hits on motorbikes, too.
The death toll in Gaza included eight civilians and three militants whose car was hit in an air strike. The military said it killed a senior Hamas operative in that attack. Hamas’s military wing said in a text message that the commander of its naval forces was killed in a separate assault.
Senior Hamas political leaders haven’t been seen in public since the Israeli air strikes on the territory of 1.8 million people began in June.
Seven of the civilians were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in Khan Younis, al-Qedra said. Witness Sa’ad Asqul said they had disregarded a telephoned Israeli warning of an imminent air strike on the house and gathered around it as human shields.
In Gaza City, residents packed bakeries, supermarkets and groceries, stocking up on provisions in case an Israeli ground operation begins. Streets were largely empty of vehicles.
Mohamed Abu Haseira, a 26-year-old father of three from Gaza City, stood outside a bakery in a line of dozens.
“I came here to buy bread because it seems that this war is rolling though in the end, there will be a truce,” he said. “Until then, nobody knows how many victims there will be.”
Tali Levy, 49, an English teacher in the city of Ashkelon about 8 miles north of Gaza, said her family has barely slept the past two nights because of the frequent air raid sirens.
After an alarm went off today, “a tremendous explosion went off above our home as the rocket was intercepted, our windows and glass patio door shook tremendously, and I almost died of fright,” she said. “It’s really like living in a game of Russian roulette here.”
Gaza militants began bombarding southern Israel after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers last month led to an Israeli roundup of Hamas operatives in the West Bank. The attacks increased after the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem last week. The youth was burned alive, the Palestinian attorney general has said, and Jewish suspects were arrested this week.
Netanyahu has blamed the killings of the three Israeli teenagers on Hamas, which has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index dropped 1 percent at the close in Tel Aviv, the lowest since March 9. The cost of insuring Israel’s debt using credit-default swaps rose 16 percent since the Israeli youths were abducted June 12 and killed. The five-year contracts jumped 3 percentage points.
Some of the rockets fired from Gaza yesterday reached 25 miles (40 kilometers) into Israeli territory, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said yesterday. Israelis living within a 25-mile radius of Gaza have been instructed not to congregate in large groups, and preschools and summer camps in that area have been told to cancel sessions, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said. The Tel Aviv municipality ordered public bomb shelters opened, spokesman Mira Marcus said.
The Israeli Manufacturers Association said in a statement it has set up a round-the-clock center to provide aid to factories within 25 miles of Gaza dealing with problems such as as direct hits on buildings, power cuts, and labor and raw material shortages. No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported from any of the rocket attacks.
Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. Hamas violently wrested control of the territory in 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, in a statement posted by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, said the president denounced the escalation. “The silence of the international community, especially the U.S. administration, will push the Palestinian leadership to make fateful decisions in defense of our people,” the statement cited Abbas as saying.
Hamas has taken on Israel in an effort to reassert itself as a resistance group at a time when Gaza’s finances have been battered and the militant movement is unable to claim gains from its reconciliation with Abbas’s Fatah party, said Jehad Harb, a professor of political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“It wants to grab this opportunity to show that it can defend itself against Israel by firing rockets,” Harb said.
Poverty in Gaza has deepened since Hamas’s patron, former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, was ousted last year and the Egyptian military destroyed hundreds of smugging tunnels the militant group used to fund its government.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in an article under his byline in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper today, urged both sides to “protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution.” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki condemned the rocket fire at a press briefing yesterday, adding, “We also support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.”
Amid calls by some Israelis to reoccupy Gaza, others raised concerns about possible implications from the military campaign.
“Hamas is weaker than ever,” Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said today on Army Radio. “Hamas is so weak that we also have to examine all the possible scenarios if Hamas collapses, and who will take over in the vacuum that will be created.”
Gold Goliath is not your typical gold dealer.