Israel struck 150 targets in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and authorized the call-up of 40,000 reservists as it weighed a possible ground operation to quell weeks of Palestinian rocket fire into its territory.
Gaza emergency services chief Ashraf al-Qedra said 16 people, including five children, were killed today as Israel’s offensive expanded. Militants raised the stakes by firing rockets in the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas for the first time during the latest round of violence. They also infiltrated Israel by sea and battled troops near an army base.
The military was investigating whether a tunnel discovered under the Israel-Gaza border was used for a second infiltration, a spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Israel Radio reported a rocket struck near a house outside Jerusalem and two rockets were intercepted in the Tel Aviv area. No injuries were reported from any of the approximately 200 rockets fired during the day, according to emergency services director Eli Bin.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in televised comments that he ordered a “significant” expansion of Israel’s offensive in Gaza that “may take time.” A ground incursion is an option, according to an official who commented anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to comment on record.
Biggest Since 2012
The air and naval offensive is Israel’s biggest in Gaza since November 2012 and follows almost a month of rocket fire and air strikes. Violence escalated after the collapse of U.S.- sponsored peace talks in April and the killing of teenagers on both sides of the conflict.
Stocks dropped to their lowest in almost four months and the cost of insuring Israel’s debt with credit-default swaps rose.
“We won’t tolerate rocket fire on our cities and communities,” Netanyahu said in his televised comments. Israel Radio said cabinet ministers were to meet tonight to discuss how to proceed.
Israel has already called up 1,500 reservists to boost the regular infantry and paratroop forces stationed along the Gaza border. The military said in a text message that an inner cabinet has approved the mobilization of 40,000 reserve troops.
Israel last sent ground forces into the territory in a 2009 operation in which more than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.
“Israel wants war,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.
“There are continuous air strikes on our people, an open war on innocent civilians, women and children,” Abu Zuhri said on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television. “Israel wants to turn things around and hide the truth.”
Another senior Hamas official, Ismail al-Ashkar, told reporters in Gaza that calm can be restored if the Israeli ‘siege’ is lifted.
Among the targets Israel hit today were command centers, rocket launchers, training bases, a car and at least four homes of Palestinian militants, according to a statement from the army. Al-Qedra reported hits on motorbikes, too.
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a phone briefing that forces killed four Palestinians armed with grenades who infiltrated Israel from the sea and opened fire near an army base north of Gaza. It wasn’t clear whether others were at large, Lerner said. Hamas confirmed the attack. A military spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the military wasn’t sure whether a tunnel discovered under the Israel-Gaza border was to be used for infiltration or loaded with explosives.
The death toll in Gaza included 10 civilians and three militants whose car was hit in an air strike. The military said it killed a senior Hamas operative. Hamas’s military wing said in a text message that the commander of its naval forces was killed in a separate assault.
Senior Hamas political leaders haven’t been seen in public since the Israeli air strikes on the territory of 1.8 million people began in June.
Seven of the civilians were killed in an Israeli air strike on a house in Khan Younis, al-Qedra said. Witness Sa’ad Asqul said they had disregarded a telephoned Israeli warning of an imminent air strike on the house and gathered around it as human shields.
In Gaza City, residents packed bakeries, supermarkets and groceries, stocking up on provisions in case an Israeli ground operation begins. Streets were largely empty of vehicles.
Mohamed Abu Haseira, a 26-year-old father of three from Gaza City, stood outside a bakery in a line of dozens.
“I came here to buy bread because it seems that this war is rolling though in the end, there will be a truce,” he said. “Until then, nobody knows how many victims there will be.”
Tali Levy, 49, an English teacher in the city of Ashkelon about 8 miles north of Gaza, said her family has barely slept the past two nights because of the frequent air raid sirens.
After an alarm went off today, “a tremendous explosion went off above our home as the rocket was intercepted, our windows and glass patio door shook tremendously, and I almost died of fright,” she said. “It’s really like living in a game of Russian roulette here.”
Egypt traditionally has played a role in mediating an end to conflicts between Israel and Gaza militants. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said it’s in touch with concerned parties to help end the violence.
Gaza militants began bombarding southern Israel after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers last month led to an Israeli roundup of Hamas operatives in the West Bank. The attacks increased after the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem last week. The youth was burned alive, the Palestinian attorney general has said, and Jewish suspects were arrested this week.
Netanyahu has blamed the killings of the three Israeli teenagers on Hamas, which has neither confirmed nor denied involvement. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization.
Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index dropped 1 percent at the close in Tel Aviv, the lowest since March 9. The cost of insuring Israel’s debt using credit-default swaps rose 16 percent since the Israeli youths were abducted June 12 and killed. The five-year contracts jumped 3 percentage points.
Preschools and camps within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of Gaza were told to cancel sessions, Lerner said. The Tel Aviv and Jerusalem municipalities said they ordered public bomb shelters opened.
Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. Hamas violently wrested control of the territory in 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina, in a statement posted by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa, said the president denounced the escalation. “The silence of the international community, especially the U.S. administration, will push the Palestinian leadership to make fateful decisions in defense of our people,” the statement cited Abbas as saying.
Hamas has taken on Israel in an effort to reassert itself as a resistance group at a time when Gaza’s finances have been battered and the militant movement is unable to claim gains from its reconciliation with Abbas’s Fatah party, said Jehad Harb, a professor of political science at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“It wants to grab this opportunity to show that it can defend itself against Israel by firing rockets,” Harb said.
Poverty in Gaza has deepened since Hamas’s patron, former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, was ousted last year and the Egyptian military destroyed hundreds of smugging tunnels the militant group used to fund its government.