The stakes have risen for both sides in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Palestine, as Israel threatens to overrun Palestinians with a ground force waiting near the border—as the international community scurries to prevent an escalation into full-out war, but with Hamas showing no signs of stopping its rocket attacks on Israel.
For Israel, the danger is that an aggressive ground strike against Hamas would inevitably result in probably hundreds or more deaths—likely many of them civilians—which would further isolate Israel internationally and make the state look like a bully beating up on a weaker target. For Palestinians, an incursion by Israeli ground forces would mean sure death for many people who are just trying to go on with their everyday lives, already running for cover on a daily basis as bombs and missiles from Israeli jets rain down on specific targets inside Gaza.
Every hour makes clear the dangers Palestinians face. Earlier today, 18 Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes— the bloodiest day so far of its massive air campaign on the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has been in the middle of the efforts to bring about a ceasefire, and hopeful Palestinian officials said it was possible a deal would be reached “today or tomorrow.” Among the Palestinian killed in airstrikes were four children ranging in age from one to seven, according to Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health official. Two of the children, a 3-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy, were from the same family and were killed by an airstrike on their home in the Jebaliya refugee camp.
So far 64 Palestinians have been killed since the operation began. One third of the dead were civilians, and more than 400 civilians have been wounded, al-Kidra said. On the Israeli side, three civilians have been killed and more than 50 wounded by rocket fire.
As expected, the United States is expressing full support for Israel’s efforts. President Obama says Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas missiles.
“No country on earth would tolerate missiles raining down” on its people and says any effort to resolve the conflict in Gaza “starts with no missiles being fired into Israel’s territory,” the president said.
U.S. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agree that “de-escalation is preferred,” provided that Hamas stops firing into Israel.
Obama has spoken with the leaders of Egypt and Turkey, too.
Rhodes said they “have the ability to play a constructive role in engaging Hamas” and encouraging a de-escalation of the attacks.
Not even the media has escaped Israeli fire—hit two media centres in Gaza City were hit on Sunday, wounding at least eight journalists, one of whom lost a leg, health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP.
The Israeli military rationalized the strike by saying it had targeted Hamas operational communications and sought to minimize civilian casualties.
Israel has given the name “Iron Dome” to its missile defense system, and it has been put to serious use over the past three days. It intercepted at least two rockets fired toward Tel Aviv. Israel has been surprised by the range of the Palestinian rockets as they come close to Jerusalem—meaning 3.5 million Israelis, or nearly half the country’s population, are within reach.
Israeli media say the rocket fell north of Jerusalem, with witnesses saying they saw a stream of smoke in Mevasseret Zion, a suburb. Israeli police spokeswoman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in an open area near Gush Ezion, a collection of Jewish settlements in the West Bank southeast of the city. It was disconcerting to Israelis because Jerusalem had been thought to be beyond the range of Gaza rocket squads.
“We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises,” said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas militant wing.
Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli military spokesman, told Army Radio that though there are frantic efforts to bring about a truce, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have ordered the military to intensify its attacks.
“I imagine in the next few hours, we will see ongoing targeted attacks on gunmen and Hamas commanders,” Mordechai said. “More targeted, more surgical and more deadly.”