Israel called up army reservists and mobilised infantry forces along the Gaza Strip after heavy air strikes on the Hamas-led territory left at least 280 dead.
Israel warned on Sunday it could send ground troops into Gaza as its warplanes continued pounding Hamas targets inside the enclave where more than 280 Palestinians have been killed in just 24 hours.
The Islamist militant group responded by firing rockets deep into Israel, with one hitting without causing casualties not far from Ashdod, home to Israel's second-largest port some 30 kilometres north of Gaza, medics said.
Despite UN calls for an immediate ceasefire, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak vowed to expand the mammoth bombing campaign, unleashed in retaliation for ongoing militant rocket fire.
"We are ready for anything. If it's necessary to deploy ground forces to defend our citizens, we will do so," his spokesman quoted him as saying.
Israeli television said the army had begun concentrating ground forces near the tiny Palestinian enclave, where medics said air raids have killed more than 280 people and wounded more than 600 since early on Saturday.
But the chief Palestinian negotiator for Mahmoud Abbas’ government in the West Bank, Saeb Erekat, told FRANCE 24 that violence would not help Israel achieve its political goal of decapitating Hamas. “These actions will only add to the complexities of the Palestinian situation,” he said.
“We need, first of all, to stop the Israeli aggression. This is enough. Over 1,000 people have been killed or wounded,” he added.
Warplanes continued to pound the impoverished and overcrowded territory of 1.5 million, with at least six people killed on Sunday as jets hit targets in northern Gaza, sending thick columns of smoke barreling into the air.
Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement branded a terror group by Israel and the West, remains defiant.
Its exiled leader Khaled Meshaal called in Damascus for a new Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israel and promised more suicide attacks. Hamas last carried out a suicide bombing against Israel in January 2005.
International pleas to halt the violence
The Israeli onslaught -- one of the bloodiest single days in the 60-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- has sparked massive international concern.
In New York, the UN Security Council called for an "immediate halt to all violence" and urged the warring parties "to immediately stop all military activities," without mentioning Israel or Hamas by name.
The Israeli campaign has been slammed by many Arab nations and on Sunday, 30 Jordanian lawmakers demanded the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.
The United States, Israel's main ally, has blamed Hamas "thugs" for provoking the campaign by firing rockets into the Jewish state from Gaza, and urged Israel to avoid causing civilian casualties in its bombing raids.
"If Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel, then Israel would not have a need for strikes in Gaza," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
‘The wounded are barred from crossing’ into Egypt
Amid the bombing, Barak also authorised the passage of an aid convoy into Gaza on Sunday, his spokeswoman said.
Israel has kept Gaza largely sealed off since Hamas violently seized power there in June 2007, overrunning forces loyal to secular president Mahmoud Abbas.
Egypt, which had slammed Israel for the bombing campaign, on Sunday blamed Hamas for not allowing hundreds of wounded to pass through the Rafah border crossing -- the only one that bypasses Israel -- to receive treatment.
"The wounded are barred from crossing" into Egypt, Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said in Cairo, blaming "those who control Gaza. We are waiting for the wounded to cross."
Israel unleashed "Operation Cast Lead" against Hamas targets mid-morning on Saturday, with some 60 warplanes hitting more than 50 targets in just a few minutes, and Barak vowing it would continue for "as long as necessary."
Hamas has responded by firing more than 90 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel, killing one man and wounding a handful of others.
The Israeli bombing came after days of spiralling violence that followed the expiry of a six-month Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and Hamas.
It also comes less than two months ahead of Israeli snap elections called for February 10.
Date created : 2008-12-28