July 9, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted at a possible ground incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as Palestinian casualties mounted from an intensified campaign of air strikes.
“We have decided to intensify even further our attacks on Hamas and other terror organizations in Gaza,” Netanyahu said in a text message, as barrages of rockets from Gaza reached as far as 88 miles (142 kilometers) into Israeli territory. “The military is prepared for all options.”
Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke explicitly of a possible ground offensive and reoccupation of Gaza, which Israel evacuated in 2005 after 38 years. Authorities yesterday authorized a call-up of 40,000 reservists, and tanks are massed along the border with Gaza.
Israel’s air force, backed by the navy, ramped up weeks of attacks on Gaza yesterday, with the declared intent of ending the rocket bombardments that began last month. The worst fighting since November 2012 follows the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks in April and the recent killings of Palestinian and Israeli teenagers, further dimming any chance of renewing negotiations soon.
The Palestinian death toll in the past two days climbed to 38, including 30 civilians, most of them children, Gaza emergency medical services chief Ashraf al-Qedra said by phone.
Israel has struck about 560 targets in Gaza the past two days, including tunnels militants dug under the border with Israel, rocket launchers, command centers and training camps, the military said.
“The Israeli occupation is crossing all red lines when its war planes strike civilians’ houses and kill women and children,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. “The Israeli occupation will pay a very heavy price for these crimes.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, denounced what the Israeli “bloodshed” in Gaza. Abbas said he appealed to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for help in arranging a truce, and that the Security Council will discuss the Israeli offensive today or tomorrow.
The Palestinian leader said he also spoke with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Egypt traditionally has played a role in mediating an end to conflicts between Israel and Gaza militants, and its Foreign Ministry has said it’s been in contact with concerned parties.
Israel signaled today that it has set out a wider objective for this campaign than a truce of the sort that ended Israel’s 2009 and 2012 operations in Gaza.
“Our primary goal, of course, is to defend the people of Israel, to restore tranquility, but an additional goal that’s no less important is to hit hard at Hamas, to wipe out Hamas’s military capability,” Steinitz said. Doing so might require Israel to reoccupy Gaza for a few weeks, Steinitz told Israel Radio, adding that he thought the time for a ground operation “may be nearing.”
Israel is deploying a third infantry brigade alongside two others already in place on the border and is continuing to call up more reserves, army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a phone briefing.
More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died in Israel’s last ground incursion into Gaza.
Militants have fired more than 250 rockets and mortars at Israel over the past two days, extending their initial reach from Israel’s south to its two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and today, as far north as the coastal city of Zichron Yaacov near the port city of Haifa. No fatalities or serious injuries have been reported since the rocket fire began last month.
A rocket that reached the city of Hadera, 69 miles (110 kilometers) north of Gaza, was a Syrian-built, Iranian-supplied M302 smuggled into Gaza, and the military thinks Palestinian militants hold dozens more, Lerner said.
Israeli stocks rose 0.8 percent at 5:02 p.m. in Tel Aviv, after dropping to their lowest in four months yesterday. The shekel strengthened 0.2 percent against the dollar today after weakening the previous two days.
Gaza streets were largely empty of traffic and people in the enclave of 1.8 million ventured out sparingly amid the air strikes. In Gaza City, dozens of old men, children and women stood in long lines outside bakeries to stock up on bread ahead of a possible Israeli incursion.
“We are afraid that if the situation gets worse and all bakeries and grocery stores close down, we will find ourselves in a big crisis,” said 30-year-old Gaza resident Yazan Rajab. “People will die of starvation because the Rafah crossing with Egypt and the Karm Abu Salem crossing with Israel are closed, and we don’t know if they will be reopened.”
Adele Raemer, 59, a teacher trainer from Kibbutz Nirim near the Gaza border, says she was forced to move her daughter’s wedding last Friday to the center of the country because of the rocket fire. While some kibbutz members, especially those with children, moved outside rocket range temporarily, she stayed put to take care of her dogs, she said.
“I feel bad for the people on the other side because I think most of them, like me, just want to put food on their table and have safety for their children,” Raemer said. “But I feel that Hamas hasn’t really left us a choice.”
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. The killing has set off clashes between Arab protesters and Israeli police that continued today.
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 the European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
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