Mid East Hostilities Escalate

Israeli House. wired.com photoIsrael seemed to be gearing up for a possible ground offensive against Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak called up 30,000 reservists.

The defense minister’s action came after another day in which militants in Gaza fired hundreds of missiles into Israel.

Many of the missiles were intercepted by Israel’s missile defense system, and Israeli artillery pounded militant bases inside the Gaza strip.

Three Israeli citizens were killed and four wounded by a rocket fired at the southern town of Kiryat Malachi by the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, who announced an escalation of the struggle against Israel.

Israeli fire has killed some 18 Palestinian fighters, including the head of Hamas Ahmed Jabari, who died in an Israeli airstrike. Civilian casualties – among them at least 4 children were numbered among those killed by Israeli fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged that Hamas forces were deliberately positioning their rockets in civilian areas, thus exposing Palestinian non-combatants to return fire from Israel. Netanyahu charged that Hamas was pursuing its rocket attacks without moral symmetry, indiscriminately targeting Israeli civilians, while Israel launched surgical strikes against Hamas emplacements.

Arab spokespersons have denounced ‘Israeli aggression’, and Arab League foreign ministers are to discuss the escalating violence on Friday. The United States, Israel’s main ally, has called on Arab nations to exercise restraint on Hamas.

This is the first time in 20 years that the threat of rocket attacks by Palestinian fighters has created insecurity in Israel, and the government is expected to react vigorously. The call-up of reservists is an ominous sign that Israel may well take action against Islamic Jihad cadres throughout the Gaza Strip for the first time in 4 years.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement saying he is "gravely concerned" and calling on all sides to avoid civilian casualties. "Hamas bears principal responsibility for the current crisis. I utterly condemn rocket attacks from Gaza into southern Israel by Hamas and other armed groups. This creates an intolerable situation for Israeli civilians in southern Israel, who have the right to live without fear of attack from Gaza. The rocket attacks also risk worsening the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, which is already precarious."

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