Abbas Slams Hamas Rocket Fire as Israel Hints at Invasion

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to end its hail of rockets on Israel as Israeli leaders signaled they were preparing to invade the Gaza Strip to stop the barrages.

Abbas spoke today as the Palestinian death toll from three days of intensified Israeli air strikes in Hamas-controlled Gaza neared 90. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address today that there would be “additional phases” to the military operation and that a “difficult, complex” battle lies ahead.

“What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” Abbas asked on Palestine TV, without explicitly naming Hamas, which recently lent its backing to his government after a seven-year rift. “We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”

It was the first time Abbas has openly criticized militants for firing hundreds of rockets into Israel over the past month. The public nature of his critique may further strain his political alliance with Hamas, which has already developed cracks over finances and his denunciation of the abduction of three Israeli teenagers, whose killing Israel has blamed on the militant group.

Israeli aircraft stepped up weeks of strikes on the territory earlier this week after the rocket fire grew heavier, reaching farther into Israel than ever before. United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon warned the Security Council of the “risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable.”

Egyptian Efforts

Israel’s benchmark TA-25 index fell 0.3 percent at the close in Tel Aviv. The shekel was little changed at 3.4305 to the dollar.

Abbas said Egyptian efforts to reach a truce have failed, and that he was in contact with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in an attempt to end the violence. Israel’s current military campaign is the third in less than six years.

It’s “unacceptable that the Gaza Strip should undergo this type of aggression every two years,” said Abbas, whose last round of U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel foundered in April. “It’s not important who wins or loses,” he said. “What’s important is to end this bloodshed.”

Abbas patched up his breach with Hamas as negotiations with Israel collapsed. The Hamas-backed Palestinian government formed on June 2 has been beset by disputes over finances, with Abbas declining to pick up the payroll for 58,000 employees of the former Hamas government in Gaza for fear the terrorist taint would scare off donors. The U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Reserves Call-Up

Abbas delivered his appeal to end the bloodshed just hours after Israel disclosed it is mobilizing 20,000 soldiers for a possible ground invasion.

“Where is this leading, is it leading to a ground force incursion? I can’t confirm that,” Israel army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said today in a phone briefing. “I can confirm we are making all the necessary preparations to be ready for that.” Earlier this week, the military was authorized to call up as many as 40,000 reserve troops.

Yesterday, an Israeli minister signaled that Israel wasn’t prepared to return to the Egyptian-brokered truce that ended eight days of fighting in 2012 and sought a broader aim of crushing Hamas’s military infrastructure.

Reoccupying Gaza?

“Our primary goal, of course, is to defend the people of Israel, to restore tranquility, but an additional goal that’s no less important is to hit hard at Hamas, to wipe out Hamas’s military capability,” Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio yesterday. Doing so might require Israel to reoccupy Gaza for a few weeks, Steinitz said, adding that he thought the time for a ground operation “may be nearing.”

Eighty-six Gazans, including dozens of civilians, have been killed since Israel ramped up its offensive on Tuesday, the official Palestinian Wafa news agency said. At least 10 were children, according to an e-mailed statement from the United Nations Relief Works Agency.

Three of the people killed in Gaza today were senior figures in the territory’s rocket operations, the military said. While houses and cars have been hit, no Israelis have been killed by the rocket fire.

Israel has struck more than 650 targets in Gaza since it ramped up its offensive against rocket operations three days ago, including tunnels militants dug under the border with Israel, their homes, rocket launchers, command centers and training camps, the military said.

Changed Dynamic

International appeals to end the fighting haven’t translated into ongoing truce talks.

While Egypt has brokered cease-fires between Israel and Gaza militants in the past, the dynamic changed after it banned the Islamist Hamas’s activities on Egyptian soil earlier this year. Israel, the U.S. and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group and shun it.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who led the failed peace talks, said the U.S. is trying to see if it’s possible to end the “very, very dangerous” violence.

“No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support completely Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks,” Kerry told reporters in Beijing today. “But de-escalation ultimately is in the interest of all parties” in order to protect Israel “while at the same time not seeing innocent people brought into the line of fire.”

Qatar Involved

Ban said yesterday that he has asked Egypt to help restore the truce it brokered in November 2012. Qatar is also involved in cease-fire efforts, he said, according to an e-mail from his office.

Fighting flared over the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month, which Israel blamed on Hamas, and the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem.

In this charged atmosphere, Israeli security forces stopped a truck with Palestinian license plates, carrying explosives and gas canisters, at a West Bank checkpoint, police said in a text message. The two people inside the vehicle, who have been arrested, were apparently planning to attack an Israeli target, police said.

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