News Column

Israel Calling Up More Soldiers as Gaza Fighting Rages

Nov. 16, 2012

Israel approved the call up of more reserve soldiers Friday night, indicating that ground troops may be readying to enter the Gaza Strip, as the fierce cross-border violence showed no sign of letting up.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak's approval of the military's request for more soldiers came shortly after the fighting, which began Wednesday, took a dramatic turn when a missile from Gaza landing near Jerusalem.

It marked the first time Israel's self-declared capital has been targeted by a rocket in Israeli-Palestinian fighting. An Israeli military spokeswoman said the rocket hit an area outside the city. There were no reports of injuries.

The missile was launched hours after a rocket from the Gaza Strip was fired towards Tel Aviv, causing sirens to wail in the metropolis for the second time in two days.

Israel said the missile did not hit the ground in Tel Aviv, but a military spokesman would not confirm that it had landed in the sea, as the one fired at Tel Aviv Thursday night had.

Israel's Operation Pillar of Defence is a massive - primarily aerial - bombardment of targets in the salient, which has prompted Gaza militias to launch hundreds of rockets at the Jewish state in response.

Israel began the offensive Wednesday with an airstrike that killed the head of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed Ja'abari. It was approved and carried out after days of incessant rocket attacks on southern Israel by Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other armed groups.

By Friday night, Israel had hit over 600 targets in the Strip, the military said, and 396 rockets had hit Israel. In addition, more than 190 other incoming missiles had been intercepted and destroyed by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile defence system.

The combined death toll in the operation climbed Friday to 32. Three of the dead were Israeli civilians, killed when a rocket slammed into an Israeli apartment building. The remainder were Palestinians and at least 12 of them - eight children, two women and two old men - were civilians.

The latest fatalities were two senior Hamas militants, killed within hours of each other in separate Israeli strikes on Friday.

It remained unclear whether Israel would expand its operation by sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip. A military spokeswoman said Thursday that all options were on the table. In an indication land forces could be used, Barak approved the military's request to draft more reserve soldiers.

Israeli media reports said the request was for 75,000 troops, some 45,000 more than the 30,000 the government approved calling up Thursday.

A forum of nine key Israeli ministers met for three hours Friday night. Reports said they were to decide on whether to embark on a ground incursion into the Strip, but ministers emerged close-mouthed from the meeting and there were no statements or indications of what they had discussed or agreed.

As the fighting raged, Egypt called for the sides to engage in a long-term truce, but even a brief ceasefire during Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Qandil's solidarity visit to the Gaza Strip did not hold.

Israel had said it would hold its fire for the duration of the visit on the condition the Palestinian militias did the same. The Israeli military said 50 rockets were fired while Qandil was in the salient. Palestinians said Israel continued its airstrikes during the visit, but the Israeli military denied this.

"We are seeking to achieve a Hudna (ceasefire) that lasts until comprehensive and just peace is achieved," Qandil told journalists in Gaza City. "The tragedy I watched today in Gaza cannot be ignored. The aggression must be stopped."

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza told reporters that "several parties," including Egypt, were attempting to mediate some sort of truce, but added that "it is still premature to speak about reaching an agreement."

After Friday prayers in Cairo, President Mohammed Morsi said Egypt "will not leave Gaza on its own."

"What is happening in Gaza is a blatant aggression on humanity," Morsi said, according to the state news agency. "I warn the aggressors that they will not subdue the people of Gaza."

Thousands of Palestinians marched in West Bank cities following prayers to protest Israel's airstrikes on Gaza. In Hebron, witnesses reported soldiers firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, who retaliated by throwing stones.

In Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the ongoing Israeli assaults were intended to obstruct the Palestinian bid to win non-member status at the United Nations.

He said the Palestinians would nonetheless make their request of the world body on November 29.



Source: Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH


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