Israel on Tuesday launched its largest offensive in the Gaza Strip in nearly two years, carrying out a deadly aerial assault on over 160 Gazan targets, and approving the mobilization of 40,000 reservists for a possible ground offensive.
The decision to ready the ground troops came as a security cabinet meeting approved an intensification of attacks against Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups.
Some 1,500 reservists had been mobilised earlier.
A source in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office quoted the Israeli leader as saying: "The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) must be ready to go all the way. All options are on the table, including a ground invasion."
The Israeli military has said that ground operations were possible, but not imminent.
Israel launched an air offensive dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” overnight, hitting more than 90 targets, the military said.
At least six Palestinians were killed and about 25 wounded in an Israeli attack on a house in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian interior ministry said. Local residents said the dwelling belonged to the family of a Hamas member.
A total of 16 people were killed in strikes across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinian officials said.
The past week has the worst outbreak of violence along the Gaza frontier since an eight-day war in 2012.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that the scaling up of operations aims to return “quiet and security” to the region, after Palestinian rocket fire targeted several Israeli cities over the past few days.
“We will not tolerate the firing of missiles on our cities and towns. And therefore I have ordered a significant broadening of the army's operation against the Hamas terrorists and the terrorists of other organisations in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
But Palestinian leaders say the fire came in response to the kidnap and killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem by Israeli extremists last week, as well as the arbitrary arrests of hundreds of Palestinian citizens by the Israeli military. Speaking to FRANCE 24, Hamas representative Osama Hamdan called the Israeli offensive “disproportionate.”
Violence escalates in Gaza
“Whenever the Palestinians are starting to protect themselves, everyone starts blaming the Palestinians, and they don’t blame the one who owns the biggest and strongest arsenal in the region,” he said.
Taking cover in Israel
Amid the rise in hostilities, Israeli citizens have braced for further rocket attacks.
A group of diners dashed toward the bathrooms of a restaurant in the southern Israeli town of Sderot late on Monday when they heard the roar of a Grad rocket, immediately followed by the boom of an interception by Israel's missile defense system.
“Don’t worry, honey. It was an interception – we saw it,” said one man into his mobile phone, attempting to calm a worried loved one on the other end of the line.
Standing against a wall, a woman put her hand to her chest and slowly exhaled. “My heart is beating so fast,” she said.
Monday night was especially harrowing for residents in and around Sderot, a town near the volatile Gaza border, with at least 100 rockets fired from Gaza in the past 24 hours, according to the Israeli military.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for the attack on the three youths, an accusation the Palestinian militant group denies.
Amid the familiar cycle of accusations, counter-accusations, attacks and retaliatory strikes, rocket strikes from the tinderbox Gaza Strip into southern Israel have multiplied.
Israel has been conducting retaliatory air strikes into Gaza, with Monday night’s offensive injuring at least nine Palestinian civilians – including seven children and two women – according to Gaza health officials. Two Israelis were wounded in the rocket strikes.
‘We need to break them’
But most residents of southern Israel living just kilometres away from the Gaza border believe the Israeli military response has not been robust enough.
"The situation is getting worse here and Bibi (Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu) is sleeping. Sderot is left on its own. What should they do? Launch a military operation in the Gaza Strip! We need to break them, we're fed up. Khalaas (enough) – die,” said Ariel Pahiman, a southern Israeli resident.
Reporting from Jerusalem, FRANCE 24’s Irris Makler said that while most residents of southern Israel support a ground offensive in Gaza, the Israeli cabinet is split between supporters of a hardline and a more moderate response.
“Israel’s cabinet interestingly is divided. We see hardliners in the cabinet insisting that a ground operation is what’s needed – a full-scale ground operation in Gaza,” said Makler. “We see other people saying this is not the time for that. We have other big issues…the cabinet is divided and the people – especially the people in the south – just want the rockets to stop.”
Obama calls for calm
At the Nirim kibbutz right on the Gaza border, a resident showed FRANCE 24 the site where a rocket landed in the backyard. “This is my niece's bedroom,” said the man pointing to a room nearby. “It could have gone straight to her bedroom.”
As tensions mount in the region, with riots breaking out in East Jerusalem following last week’s gruesome killing of a Palestinian teenager, the international community has been calling for calm.
In an op-ed piece in Haaretz Tuesday, US President Barack Obama called it a “dangerous moment” for the region and urged “all parties” to “protect the innocent and act with reasonableness and restraint, not vengeance and retribution”.
But Obama’s Mideast peace initiative has stalled with both sides holding a bleak vision for the prospects of peace – despite Washington’s calls for further engagement.
“I must say the drums are beating [for] war. That is the rhetoric on both sides. But there is still that moment when both sides are saying, ‘We don’t want this, but…’," FRANCE 24’s Makler said.
As the military tit-for-tat escalates, however, it may well be the activity on the ground that determines the next phase in what has seemingly become an interminable conflict.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)
Date created : 2014-07-08