Israel Signals Escalation in Gaza

photo - www.lowyinterpreter.orgPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday clearly signaled Israel’s readiness to ‘significantly’ escalate the level of Israeli military operations against Hamas forces inside Gaza.

After 4 days of unceasing aerial, rocket and artillery bombardment some 70 Palestinians – among them women and children – have been killed. On Thursday 3 Israeli civilians were killed when a Hamas-fired rocket fell on a town in the south of the country.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that 76 missiles fired from Gaza had hit Israel on Sunday, while another 38 were intercepted by its Iron Dome missile defense system, including at least one over Tel Aviv. The Israeli ambulance service reported two people were seriously injured, with 10 moderately or lightly hurt.

Israel's state radio reported that a volley of 10 rockets had been fired at Ashdod, with three falling in a residential area and seven people treated for shock. One rocket from Gaza made a direct hit on a residential building in Ashkelon, causing injuries and damage. Another rocket hit a car in Ofakim, causing injuries, the IDF said.

In the meantime the Israeli Defense Forces report launching attacks on more than 1,000 of what were termed terrorist targets. Reports indicate that Israeli strikes caused injuries and fatalities in and around Gaza City. Hospitals are overwhelmed by the numbers of casualties, and are running short of supplies.

Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted on Sunday that IDF forces were “exacting a heavy price” from Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and were ready for “a significant expansion” of the anti-Hamas operations. Israel has called up tens of thousands of army reservists in possible preparation for an imminent ground attack. If such an attack takes place it will be the most serious Israeli incursion into Gaza for 4 years.

The United States has stood firmly behind its ally, with President Obama asserting Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks of the nature unleashed against the country by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations. “There’s no country on earth,” said President Obama, “that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.”

The Arab League, which met in emergency session in Cairo, is sending a delegation of foreign ministers to Gaza on Tuesday. An Arab League spokesman said Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby and 16 league foreign ministers will drive into Gaza on Tuesday for talks. And Saeb Erakat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and an Abbas ally, said the Palestinian leader would hold talks with Blair and with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the coming days.

The United States and several European countries have put the brunt of the blame for the current crisis on Hamas, saying Israel has a right to protect itself. Arab and Muslim nations, meanwhile, have accused Israel of being the aggressor.

Rocket attacks into Israel were the "precipitating event" for the fighting under way now, U.S. President Barack Obama said during a stop in Thailand on Sunday. "We are actively working with all the parties in the region to see if we can end those missiles being fired without further escalation of violence in the region."

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