Israel Threatens Expanded Airstrikes, Gaza Ground Operation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told residents of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that any militant target was fair game, as aircraft struck dozens of sites and his defense minister hinted at a new ground incursion.

“I urge Gaza residents to immediately evacuate all facilities used by Hamas to carry out terrorist activities,” Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting held at military headquarters today in Tel Aviv, according to an e-mailed statement. “Every such site is a target for us.”

Targets today included a house, two men in a car and another on a motorbike, according to the pro-Hamas Al-Rai news agency. At least 15 Palestinians were killed, bringing the death toll from seven weeks of hostilities to more than 2,100, according to Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Qedra. Sixty-eight on the Israeli side, all but four of them soldiers, have also died since Israel embarked on its offensive with the declared aim of squelching rocket fire. Rocket bombardments persisted today.

Stakes rose last week when Israeli air strikes killed three senior Hamas military leaders and the wife, a son and a daughter of the group’s top military commander, Mohammed Deif. An Israel air strike today killed Mohammed al-Oul, who was “responsible for Hamas’s financial transaction of terror funds,” the army said.

Ground Incursion?

Israel will “continue pounding Hamas, at this point from the air,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said at the cabinet meeting. “We aren’t going to stop there, and have a variety of options to inflict damage on Hamas.”

Israel suspended its ground war on Aug. 5 under a short-lived truce. Israeli ministers authorized the call-up of 10,000 reserve troops last week.

Yesterday, Israeli aircraft toppled a Gaza apartment building the military said was a Hamas command center. The building had been emptied after the military warned it would be attacked. The military also said schools, hospitals and cemeteries in Gaza have been used throughout the conflict as launching pads for more than 400 rockets.

Israel’s benchmark TA-25 Index, which lost 0.7 percent last week, closed down O.5 percent today in Tel Aviv trading.

Packing Up

Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, considers Hamas a terrorist organization. About 4,000 rockets have been fired at Israel over the past seven weeks, and the Israeli military has carried out more than 5,000 strikes on Gaza, the army said. Today, the air force struck about 45 targets by late afternoon, and militants barraged Israel with more than 90 rockets and mortars, the army said.

Haim Yellin, head of the Eshkol Regional Council in southern Israel, said on Channel 2 yesterday that as many as 70 percent of Israelis living closest to Gaza have left their homes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an ARD television interview today that “Israel has to ensure first of all that its citizens aren’t constantly victimized by rocket attacks.” Merkel said she has urged Netanyahu to work for a cease-fire, adding, “you need both sides for a cease-fire to work.”

Overnight, five rockets were fired at northern Israel from Syria and one from Lebanon, hitting open areas, the army said. Israel’s northern borders have been largely quiet during the Gaza conflict, and there was no retaliatory fire.