- Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks and armoured vehicles are at muster points along the border
- Hamas prime minister’s headquarters, police compound and huge network of smuggling tunnels were targeted
- Follows Hamas rocket strike aimed at Jerusalem
- Israeli military have targeted more than 800 sites since the operation began
- Egypt’s president will today hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo to discuss to Gaza crisis
- Palestinian militants in Gaza fired four rockets at the Israeli port city of Ashdod while Israel used an Iron Dome missile interceptor battery in Tel Aviv after it again came under rocket fire from Gaza
- Israel says its Iron Dome system has intercepted nearly 250 rockets since Wednesday
- Yesterday, the White House defended Israel’s right to defend itself and decide how to respond to the rocket fire
- David Cameron urged Israel to ‘do everything possible’ to end the crisis
- Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to go to the region for last ditch talks to avert full-scale conflict
By Leon Watson
PUBLISHED: 10:44 GMT, 17 November 2012 | UPDATED: 02:04 GMT, 18 November 2012
Israeli warplanes have struck Gaza militants for a fifth straight day as its military prepared for a possible ground invasion, though Egypt saw ‘some indications’ of a truce ahead.
Forty-seven Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 12 children, have been killed in Israel’s raids, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three people and injuring dozens.
Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, killing a leading militant of the Hamas Islamist group that controls Gaza and rejects Israel’s existence, with the declared goal of deterring gunmen in the coastal enclave from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years.
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These attacks followed a defiant statement by Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida, who told a televised news conference.
‘This round of confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and it is only the beginning.’
The masked gunman dressed in military fatigues insisted that despite Israel’s blows Hamas ‘is still strong enough to destroy the enemy.’
An Israeli attack on Saturday destroyed the house of a Hamas commander near the Egyptian border.
Missiles knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company.
Unexploded bomb: A Palestinian Hamas policeman looks at an Israeli rocket in the street in Gaza City on Saturday
In southern Gaza, Israeli aircraft went after the hundreds of underground tunnels militants used to smuggle in weapons and other contraband from Egypt, residents reported. A huge explosion in the area sent buildings shuddering in the Egyptian city of El-Arish, 30 miles away.
The tunnels have also been a lifeline for residents of the area during the recent fighting, providing a conduit for food, fuel and other goods after supplies stopped coming in from Israel before the military operation began.
Israeli aircraft kept pounding their original targets, the militants’ weapons storage facilities and underground rocket launching sites. They also went after rocket squads more aggressively.
The military has called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and other armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, signalling a ground invasion could be imminent.
Palestinian militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the Israeli attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv heartland.
Following those attacks, the military deployed an Iron Dome rocket defence battery in central Israel today. The system, devised precisely to deflect the Gaza rocket threat, was deployed two months earlier than planned, the Defence Ministry said.
According to Israel its Iron Dome system has intercepted nearly 250 rockets since a round of fighting broke out on Wednesday, including an incoming projectile bound for Tel Aviv.
Palestinian militants in Gaza has kept up their cross-border rocket salvoes. Four rockets hit an apartment building in the Israeli Mediterranean port city of Ashdod, ripping into several balconies, and police said five people were injured.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, said Israeli missiles wrecked the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister – and struck a police headquarters.
With Israeli tanks and artillery positioned along the Gaza border and no end in sight to hostilities now in their fourth day, Tunisia’s foreign minister travelled to the enclave in a show of Arab solidarity.
Officials in Gaza said 42 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
Hamas, shunned by the West over its refusal to recognise Israel, says its cross-border attacks have come in response to Israeli strikes against Palestinian fighters in Gaza.
Hamas says it is committed to continued confrontation with Israel and is eager not to seem any less resolute than smaller, more radical groups that have emerged in Gaza in recent years.
‘We have not limited ourselves in means or in time,’ Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel’s Channel One television. ‘We hope that it will end as soon as possible, but that will be only after all the objectives have been achieved.’
The Islamist movement has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but has maintained a blockade of the tiny, densely populated coastal territory.
The widened scope of targets brings the scale of fighting closer to that of the war the two groups waged four years ago.
Hamas, a group that remains pledged to Israel’s destruction, was badly bruised during that confrontation, but has since restocked its arsenal with more and better weapons, and has been under pressure from smaller, more militant groups to prove its commitment to fighting Israel.
‘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 Hamas’ armed wing.
Israeli leaders have threatened to widen the operation if the rocket fire doesn’t halt. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said options included the possible assassination of Haniyeh, the prime minister.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in an emergency session with cabinet ministers yesterday. Israeli media reported they approved drafting 75,000 reservists. Earlier this week, the government approved a separate call-up of 30,000.
Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said 16,000 reservists were called to duty yesterday and others could soon follow.
She said no decision had been made on a ground offensive but all options are on the table.
President Barack Obama spoke separately to Israeli and Egyptian leaders yesterday as the violence in Gaza intensified. In a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reiterated US support for Israel’s right to self-defence.
Today the White House defended Israel’s right to defend itself against attack and decide how to respond to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, blaming Hamas for starting the conflict.
Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said: ‘These rockets have been fired into Israeli civilian areas and territory for some time now. So Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long, and that is what led the Israelis to take the action that they did in Gaza.’
He told reporters the U.S. ‘wants the same thing as the Israelis want,’ which is an end to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza.
The U.S is emphasising diplomacy and ‘de-escalation’ as keys to solving the conflict, Rhodes said.
To Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, he praised Egypt’s efforts to ease regional tensions.
Egyptian leaders had promised to support Gaza against the Israeli attack on Thursday amid increasing signs that a massive ground invasion could be launched by Israel this weekend.
President Mohammed Mursi said he would not leave Gaza on its own and condemned Israel’s ‘blatant aggression against humanity’.
The declaration, hours after a visit to Gaza by Egypt’s prime minister, increased tensions in the region where Hamas militants continued to fire rockets into southern Israel – with three landing near Jerusalem – and Israeli warplanes pounded Palestinian targets.
Mr Mursi, whose Muslim Brotherhood is linked to Hamas, did not elaborate on what form the support would take. Egypt is trying to broker a ceasefire or peace agreement but with Hamas firing rockets across the border, and Israel calling up 75,000 reservists, there are fears it may already be too late.
ISRAEL’S HOME-GROWN ‘IRON DOME’ DEFENCE SYSTEM
In four days of fighting against Gaza-based militants, Israel has used a missile-defense system called ‘Iron Dome’ to intercept rockets fired at populated civilian areas.
It says the new home-grown system has been a tremendous success. As of Saturday evening, the military said it had shot down some 240 incoming rockets, more than half the number of projectiles launched into Israel since Wednesday.
Here’s a quick look at the system:
- Produced by Israeli-based Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, Iron Dome is meant to shoot down rockets and artillery shells with ranges of up to 70 kilometers, or 45 miles. It has been operational since 2011.
- How it works: The system detects launches of rockets and quickly determines their flight path. If it is headed toward populated areas or sensitive targets, it fires an interceptor with a special warhead that strikes the incoming rocket within seconds. Rockets headed toward open areas area allowed to land.
- Currently, five Iron Dome batteries are deployed in Israel. Most are located in the south near Gaza. A fifth battery was deployed outside Tel Aviv on Saturday, two months ahead of schedule. Hours later, it shot down a rocket headed toward Tel Aviv.
- Missiles cost around $40,000 a piece. In 2010, the U.S. provided $200 million to expand development. Additional funding is currently being considered, with $70 million already allocated for the 2012 fiscal year. (US defense statement just FYI: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=15285)
- The system is part of what Israel calls its ‘multilayer missile defense’. It is meant to protect against the tens of thousands of short-range rockets possessed by militants in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Israel has also deployed its ‘Arrow’ missile defense systems for long-range threats from Iran. The military says its new ‘David’s Sling’ system, being developed by Rafael to stop medium-range missiles, will be activated by 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilisation level.
Meanwhile Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled a trip to Britain next week amid fears that his country could be the next to experience the Arab Spring’s demands for change.
King Abdullah had been due to visit Britain to speak to the Jewish community in London. The cancellation followed protests in Amman which spread to other parts of the country. At least one person was killed and 75 injured, including 58 policemen.
Among those taking part was the Muslim Brotherhood, which Jordan has accused of inciting the unrest to score political points ahead of parliamentary elections in January.
In Gaza, Egyptian prime minister Hisham Kandil held the bloodied body of a child during his visit to a hospital, promising: ‘Egypt will spare no effort to stop the aggression and to achieve a truce’.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she was appalled that civilians were being killed, including three Israelis in their apartment and several Palestinian children, including a baby, and a pregnant woman.
Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters on Friday that Pillay condemns the indiscriminate firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and is extremely concerned by the sharp increase in aerial attacks by Israeli forces on the heavily populated Gaza Strip.
With rockets from the Gaza Strip targeting Tel Aviv, Colville said Pillay ‘urges both sides to pull back from an increasingly dangerous confrontation.’
Israel targeted more than 130 locations in Gaza overnight on Thursday aimed at knocking out rocket-firing facilities which they say have been positioned close to schools and hospitals.
The conflict poses a test of Mr Mursi’s commitment to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.
On Thursday Foreign Secretary William Hague urged both Israel and the Palestinians to make efforts to halt the violence in Gaza, but made clear he believes Hamas bears the greatest responsibility for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end.
Mr Hague said he had spoken to the Egyptian foreign minister to urge him to use his country’s influence to try to negotiate a ‘meaningful’ ceasefire.
Protesters gathered near the Israeli embassy in London today condemned the British Government’s stance on the conflict in Gaza.
With placards, flags and chants, the activists branded Israel a ‘terror state’ and showed their solidarity with the people of the Palestinian enclave.
Speakers took to a podium to condemn the Government after Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Hamas regime in Gaza bore ‘principal responsibility’ for the escalation of violence.
Organisers claimed that ‘thousands’ of protesters had joined the rally.There was a major police presence in London’s Kensington area, with barriers and a gate blocking the road leading to the embassy.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2234343/Apocalypse-Now-Israel-bombards-Gaza-fifth-straight-day-nearly-1-000-airstrikes-paving-way-imminent-invasion.html#ixzz2CYvdvl8Q
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