Day 4: Ground Invasion? Israel Troops Amass on Gaza Border
Airstrikes continue but signs--including US backing of ground war--portend weekend escalation
Israel's elevated assault on the Gaza Strip continued into a fourth day Saturday with over 200 airstrikes across the besieged Palestinian territory, including a direct hit on Hamas headquarters.
At least ten new Palestinian casualties were reported in the latest string of bombings from the air, including civilians.
According to the Associated Press that brings the death toll in Gaza to over 40 people since Israel's "Operation Pillar of Defense" began Wednesday with high proportion of adult civilians, young children, and one pregnant mother. Three Israeli's were killed by a rocket launched from Gaza on Thursday.
An update from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights on Saturday said at least 17 civilians were among those killed, reporting:
The civilian deaths include 6 children and 2 women. Additionally, 394 Palestinians, including 381 civilians, have been wounded – this number includes 107 children and 64 women. Dozens of civilian and governmental facilities have been also destroyed. Israeli airstrikes over the past 24 hours have been intense and severe, and have targeted civilian and governmental facilities located in densely-populated areas, causing civilian causalities, contrary to Israeli forces’ claims that they do not target civilians and civilian property. Israeli missiles have also hit populated houses.
Al Jazeera has live coverage:
Expectations of a ground invasion have been growing over the recent days, but those fears grew on Friday into Saturday following key statements from Israeli political and military leaders. The Guardian reported that a strategy session with senior ministers called by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strengthened those concerns. Israeli tanks were reportered gathering near the Gaza border, and roads in the area were closed to Israeli civilians.
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In addition, the Israeil army has drafted 16,000 reserve soldiers from infantry, engineering and armoured battalions, and from the Home Front command, and approved the call-up of 75,000 reservists. Inter Press Service points out that four years ago when Israeli troops entered Gaza on the ground during "Operation Cast Lead", Israel "mobilized less than 10,000 reservists" prior to the invasion.
The Guardian reports:
Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, told CNN that a ground invasion could come before the end of the weekend if the rocket attacks continue.
"We don't want to get into Gaza if we don't have to. But if they keep firing at us … a ground operation is still on the cards," he said. "If we see in the next 24 to 36 hours more rockets launched at us, I think that would be the trigger."
Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, said Israeli planes early on Saturday bombed the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister. An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed the strike on Haniyeh's office, according to the Reuters news agency.
Israel said it had struck more than 800 targets in the Gaza strip, with 180 air strikes over Friday night and Saturday morning. Gaza officials said about 500 rockets had been launched so far at Israel, according to Associated Press.
The Gaza interior ministry reported that before dawn on Saturday missiles hit two Hamas security facilities as well as the Hamas police headquarters in Gaza City, setting off a blaze that engulfed nearby houses and cars.
The interior ministry said a government compound was hit as people arrived for early morning prayers.
A three-storey house belonging to the Hamas official Abu Hassan Salah was also destroyed early on Saturday, Reuters reported. Rescuers said at least 30 people were pulled from the rubble.
The New York Daily News adds:
Secretary of State Clinton called Lieberman and his Palestinian counterpart and urged them to pull back their forces and try to work out a truce in the face of the “very, very dangerous situation.”
But as Clinton worked the phones, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. announced they had gotten the approval from Washington to invade if necessary.
“The United States has given us the full backing to take whatever measures are necessary to defend our citizens from Hamas terror,” Ambassador Michael Oren said. “Israel has received unequivocal and outstanding support from the United States and all branches of government. From the White House, from Congress, in both parties, completely bipartisan support.”
Oren spoke after both houses of Congress overwhelmingly voted for resolutions in support of Israel’s “inherent right to act in self-defense.”
President Obama also “reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives” in a phone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the White House.
The Palestinian delegation in Washington condemned the U.S. response as “biased and weak” and called on the White House to bar Israel from unleashing American-made weapons on civilians.
They also accused Netanyahu of manufacturing a crisis to improve his reelection chances.
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, was one of the only U.S. lawmakers speaking up for the Palestinians.
“It’s a devastated area already,” he said. “It’s only going to be made worse by this. Innocent people are dying. We need a ceasefire.”