Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a peace offering from Hamas as Israel today pressed ahead with fierce bombardments on the Gaza Strip and readied plans for a possible ground invasion.
Barrages since Monday have levelled the Islamists’ bases and slain nine top commanders including their intelligence chief, their lead missile designer and their terror boss in Gaza City.
Hamas offered a truce last night via the Russian foreign ministry, requesting ceasefire on a ‘mutual basis’ after they launched more than 1,000 rockets at densely populated towns and cities, killing seven Israeli civilians.
But Netanyahu has vowed his troops are committed to a long operation which will only ‘increase in force’ despite international outcry at the growing Palestinian death toll – 67 people have been killed, including more than a dozen children.
‘The campaign is still far from over,’ a cabinet minister said after last night’s meeting with Netanyahu. ‘Whatever we don’t do now, we will have to do in six months or a year from now.’
He told Israeli news site Ynet: ‘When we have hit all our targets and the other side has still not surrendered, we will launch a ground operation even though we do not seek it.’
Plans for the ground invasion were being drafted for Israeli Defence Force Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi for approval later on Thursday, according to the Jerusalem Post. If they get the General’s sign off, the plans will be passed on to Netanyahu and his cabinet.
‘This will not end in the next few days,’ the cabinet minister added. ‘Israel will not stop and has no interest in stopping. It is all moving in the right direction. We will act until they admit that opening fire was a mistake, just as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah did after the Second Lebanon War in 2006.’
Joe Biden and Boris Johnson made pleas for calm yesterday, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was much more forceful in his condemnation – saying that Israel needed to be taught a ‘lesson.’
He told Russia’s Vladimir Putin during a phone call of the need for ‘the international community to give Israel a strong and deterrent lesson’ as he called on the UN to intervene with a ‘determined and clear message.’
The appeals fell on deaf ears this morning as Israel and Hamas exchanged cross-border blows throughout the early hours of Thursday – sending Israelis fleeing into air raid shelters, while Palestinians evacuated their apartments.
And after a senior Hamas commander was killed yesterday, the Islamists responded with a volley of rockets into southern Israel which rescue workers said killed a six-year-old boy.
Six high-ranking commanders and a further five key Hamas figures were ‘neutralised’ on Wednesday, including Brigadier General Bassem Issa, chief of the Gaza Brigades, and Jamal Zabda, head of the group’s rocket unit, according to the IDF.
The IDF say that Hamas is ‘losing everything’ after they killed their senior leaders and destroyed their government buildings, including banks and other administrative centres in air strikes on 650 targets.
Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman told reporters early Thursday: ‘Tonight we started destroying government targets in the Gaza Strip, such as central banks and internal security buildings. Hamas is beginning to discover cracks and there is pressure in the organization, even among the Gaza public who is losing its patience and sees these ruins on the eve of the holiday (of Eid al-Fitr).’
Zilberman said that all options remained on the table and that troops were on standby if there are orders for a ground invasion, they include the Paratroopers Brigade, Golani Infantry Brigade and 7th Armoured Brigade.
Three tower blocks have been levelled in assaults by the Israel Air Force and the Islamists’ network of underground tunnels has been decimated by bunker buster bombs.