Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hamas on Sunday, declaring that the Israeli army was prepared to significantly widen its Gaza offensive. Netanyahu’s threat came as Hamas launched a fresh rocket attack on Tel Aviv.
The Israeli army is ready to “significantly expand” its operation in Gaza, the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday as Hamas launched fresh rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.
Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said “The soldiers are ready for any activity that could take place”.
Netanyahu issued the warning as Israel’s “Iron Dome” system intercepted two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv. Hamas militants admitted responsibility for the latest rocket attack on Israel’s commercial capital.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry told FRANCE24 that a ground offensive into Gaza was likely if the rocket attacks continued.
“Our sole aim of this offensive is to make Hamas stop firing rockets. We have used air strikes but if that’s not enough then we may contemplate ground operations as well,” Ygal Palmor from the Israeli foreign ministry told FRANCE 24 on Sunday.
“If rockets are being fired then that will bring the ground operation forward,” he added.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said on Sunday that Israel would not negotiate a truce with the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers as long as rocket fire continues from the Palestinian enclave.
Israel’s operation has drawn Western support for what US and European leaders have called Israel’s right to self-defence, but there have also been a growing number of calls from world leaders to seek an end to the violence.On Sunday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip “would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation.”
Hague told Sky News television it was much more difficult to limit civilian casualties in a ground assault and said it would threaten to prolong the conflict.
Air and sea raids continue
Fifty Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 14 children, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three civilians.
Since Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, the Jewish state has launched more than 950 air strikes on the coastal Palestinian territory, targeting weaponry and flattening militant homes and headquarters.
The raids continued past midnight on Sunday, with warships bombarding targets from the sea. An air raid targeted a building in Gaza City housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding three journalists from al Quds television, a station Israel sees as pro-Hamas, witnesses said.
The TV building also housed journalists from Britain’s ITN news and Sky News networks.
Three other attacks killed three children and wounded 14 other people, medical officials said.
Violence ‘shatters’ hopes of peace
The night of violence represents a blow to peace efforts, which have been lead by Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, who on Saturday said there were indications a truce could “soon” be reached.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent Gallagher Fenwick, reporting from Gaza, witnessed the latest night of violence.
“Throughout the night we heard very heavy shelling, most of it coming from Israeli warships stationed off the coast. The sound of Apache helicopters and drones flying low overhead could also be heard,” Fenwick said on Sunday.
“The Israeli Air Force has published a statement saying it had hit what it called ‘terrorist targets’ across the Gaza Strip, including rocket-launching facilities and other Hamas infrastructure. For their part, the Palestinian factions are claiming responsibility for rockets being fired towards Israel,” said Fenwick.
“It has really shattered the hopes that were raised on Saturday night when rumours came out of Cairo that a truce might be brokered between the two sides,” he continued. “Considering the night we have just had, it appears we are heading in the opposite direction.”
On Sunday, France also became involved in attempts to bring peace to the region with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius travelling to Israel to try and broker a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
During his one-day visit Fabius is due to meet with Israeli leaders as well as with the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, diplomatic sources told AFP.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will head to Cairo on Monday for talks with the president and other officials on the crisis in Gaza.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview with Britain’s Sky News on Sunday he welcomed efforts by his Egyptian counterpart to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict but accused Hamas of rejecting the proposals.
A delegation of ministers from the Arab League are due to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in what a league official described as a “show of support for the territory”.
Israel said it would keep schools in its southern region shut on Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rockets.
On Saturday, in the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.