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Ground War? Israeli Forces Amass on Gaza Border
Assault on Palestinian territory continues as Netanyahu tells Israelis to expect further action and regional leaders condemn 'viciousness'
Updated (3:35 PM EST): Israel Preparing Ground Invasion?
The Associated Press reports:
Late [Thursday], Israel signaled a ground operation may be imminent as forces moved toward the border area with Gaza. At least 12 trucks were seen transporting tanks and armored personnel carriers, and a number of buses carrying soldiers arrived. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he had authorized the army to call-up additional reservists for possible action. The army said it was prepared to draft up to 30,000 additional troops.
"I ordered the military today to widen the draft of reserve soldiers in order to be able to be ready for any development," Barak said. Military officials said the moves were to prepare for the possibility of a ground invasion, but stressed no decision had been made. Israel TV stations, however, said a ground offensive was expected Friday.
President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt renewed his warning on Thursday that his country considers the Israeli assault on the people of Gaza—what many consider to be the largest open-air prison on the planet—an act of outright aggression and vowed to stand by.
Morsi's comments reflect the regional implications of a quickly escalating conflict in Gaza which continued overnight with dozens of Israeli airstrikes. As the aerial assault continued in what Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have named "Operation Pillar of Cloud"—a Biblical reference to the Divine cloud that protected the Jewish people—the fear of a regional conflict growing out of Gaza has heightened.
“Israel must realize that we don’t accept the aggression that negatively affects security and stability in the region,” Morsi said before a meeting of senior ministers, reports The New York Times. Morsi used the opportunity to tell Palestinians in Gaza that Egypt would "stand by them to stop this assault on them,” though he not precise about how the Egyptians might do so.
Prime Minister of Qatar Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani also condemned Israel's action and called for UN intervention immediately, saying: "This vicious attack must not pass unpunished... The UN security council must take up its responsibility to secure peace and security in the world ... We reject extremism and terrorism but such irresponsible and unjustified attacks must be condemned by the world."
Inter Press Service reports:
The Israeli military dropped leaflets onto Gaza Thursday, telling Palestinians that they need to “take responsibility for (themselves) and avoid being present in the vicinity of Hamas operatives and facilities and those of other terror organisations that pose a risk to their safety.”
With 1.7 million people living in a 365 square-kilometre area, the Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Israeli attacks, PCHR’s Jaber Wichah said, “could reach everywhere, and all of Gaza could be under threat. According to these leaflets, it’s not just a specific area. Every person is vulnerable.”
In an interview with Al-Jazeera late Wednesday, Palestinian rights campaigner and author Ali Abunimah, recounted for viewers the incidents that resulted in the renewed violence and condemned both Israel's assault on Gaza and the widely mis-reported aspects of the realities on the ground there:
Following the first major wave of airstrikes that pounded targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a national televised appearance and vowed that Israel was sending a clear message to Palestinians and warned that the IDF's military assault could escalate.
In the address, Netanyahu said: "Today we sent a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and if it becomes necessary we are prepared to expand the operation."
"We are at the beginning, not end of this action," said Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, stressing the need to be "on high alert in Israel and West Bank... It won't be a quick fix.. but we'll reach goals we set for this operation."
Graphic images of child casualties and the resulting anger in Gaza accompanied fresh warnings from Hamas leaders and other militia leaders that "open war" was inevitable. Thursday saw the first evidence of the threatened response as agencies reported rockets from Gaza struck a residential building in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malahi, killing three Israelis.
Five Palestinians were killed by Israeli air strikes on Thursday morning, as militants shot around 250 rockets into Israel, killing three Israelis.
The latest violence raised the total number of Gazans killed in 20 hours of Israeli air strikes to 13. At least 120 other residents of the coastal enclave have been injured, according to medics.
In the same period, Gaza rockets killed three Israelis and injured another five in a direct hit on a residential building in the southern town of Kiryat Malahi, said Israeli police.
"We have three killed," spokeswoman Luba Samri told the AFP news agency, saying four other people were also injured in a "direct hit on a house" in the town, 30km north of the Gaza Strip.
The fighting began when Israel assassinated Ahmed al-Jabari, head of Hamas’ military wing, with an air strike on his car in Gaza on Wednesday. Jabari's bodyguard and son were also killed in the strike.
Thursday's rocket fire on Kiryat Malahi was claimed by Jabari's group, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in a statement on its website.
The Associated Press reports:
Most Gazans remained in their homes, following developments on Hamas-run TV and local radio stations. Many also provided updates on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, providing news about airstrikes and rocket launches. Others shared prayers and called for militants to stand tough against Israel.
"My little 4-year-old boy keeps asking me to pray with him every 10 minutes, saying, 'Mama. Let's pray together to Allah in order to be safe,'" one woman, Ghadeer Ahmad, wrote on her Facebook account.
While streets were quiet, bakeries and groceries remained open. No food shortages were reported, and electricity, which suffers frequent outages even during normal times, remained sporadic. Many families keep home generators to maintain power.
"I am trying to calm my children when they hear the sound of explosions," said Zainab Nimr, a 33-year-old mother of three. "We have enough food and water for four days, so I asked my husband to go out and get extra supplies. No one knows when this will end."
In an interview with the Russian Times, Paul Hirshon, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, hailed what he called "the pecision of the Israeli operation," despite a number of civilian deaths including those of children: