Israel Prepared for ‘Expansion’ of Gaza Operation - Netanyahu
MOSCOW/GAZA - Israel continued to pound Gaza from air and sea on Sunday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israeli forces were prepared for a widening of their now five-day old military operation against the Palestinian enclave.
“We will force Hamas and other terrorist organizations to pay a high price,” Netanyahu told a Cabinet session on Sunday. “The Israeli army is ready to significantly expand its operation.”
Israel has put 75,000 reservists on stand-by and troops and military equipment are massed near the border with Gaza, which has been ruled by the Hamas Islamist group since 2007.
Gaza's health ministry says 67 people, around half of them civilians and many of them children, have been killed by Israeli bombs in the enclave since Wednesday, when Israel assassinated the head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Jabari, in response to a surge in Palestinian rocket attacks. The increase in rocket attacks followed the death of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy during an Israeli military operation in Gaza on November 8.
Twenty one people - incuding nine children - were killed in Gaza on Sunday, health officials said. Nine people from the same family were killed in an Israeli airstrike on the house of a Hamas official, a medic at Gaza's biggest hospital told RIA Novosti.
Five people were hurt in a rocket attack from Gaza on the town of Ofakim, on Sunday, and another rocket caused injuries and damage in the town of Ashkelon, Israeli media said. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system also shot down two missiles above the country’s commercial capital, Tel Aviv, which was targeted for the fourth straight day.
Three Israelis have been killed by rockets launched from Gaza since Wednesday.
US President Barack Obama has said Washington fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, but has urged a diplomatic solution to the conflicts.
"There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders... we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself," Obama said on Sunday.
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood movement that Hamas is an offshoot of, has warned that an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would have “terrible consequences” for the Middle East.
"Cairo will not leave Gaza on its own. Egypt today is not the Egypt of yesterday, and Arabs today are not the Arabs of yesterday," he said on Friday.
Mursi also said that truce negotiations were underway, but he said there were no guarantees they would prove a success.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that Moscow supports Mursi’s efforts to bring peace to Gaza.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt next week to seek an end to the fighting.
Israel’s last invasion of Gaza, in 2008-2009, killed 1,400 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the 22-day military operation.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday that a ground operation would cost Israel international support.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has called Israeli’s attack on Gaza a pre-election ploy ahead of January polls in the Jewish state.
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