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“There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organisations are employing against the people of Israel,” said Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesman.
The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, but took no action.
In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabious said: “It would be a catastrophe if there is an escalation in the region. Israel has the right to security but it won’t achieve it through violence. The Palestinians also have the right to a state.”
“GATES OF HELL”
Israel’s sworn enemy Iran, which supports and arms Hamas, condemned the Israeli offensive as “organised terrorism”. Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, which has its own rockets aimed at the Jewish state, denounced strikes on Gaza as “criminal aggression”, but held its fire.
Oil prices rose more than $1 as the crisis grew. Israeli shares and bonds fell, while Israel’s currency rose off Wednesday’s lows, when the shekel slid more than 1 percent to a two-month low against the dollar.
A second Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly intense and frequent. Netanyahu, favoured in polls to win a Jan. 22 general election, said on Wednesday the Gaza operation could be stepped up.
His cabinet has granted authorisation for the mobilisation of military reserves if required to press the offensive, dubbed “Pillar of Defence” in English and “Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew after the Israelites’ divine sign of deliverance in Exodus.
Hamas has said the killing of its top commander in a precise, death-from-above airstrike, would “open the gates of hell” for Israel. It appealed to Egypt to halt the assault.
Israel has been anxious since Mubarak was toppled last year in the Arab Spring revolts that replaced secularist strongmen with elected Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and brought civil war to Israel’s other big neighbour Syria.
Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday. Israel’s ambassador left Cairo on what was called a routine home visit and Israel said its embassy would stay open.
Gaza has an estimated 35,000 Palestinian fighters, no match for Israel’s F-16 fighter-bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, Merkava tanks and other modern weapons systems in the hands of a conscript force of 175,000, with 450,000 in reserve.