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Israel Radio’s military affairs correspondent said the army’s Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.
The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.
It is the biggest test yet for Egypt’s new President Mohamed Mursi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year’s protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas, yet Mursi has also pledged to respect Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.
Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime minister’s visit was intended to further.
A Palestinian official close to Egypt’s mediators told Reuters Kandil’s visit “was the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve”.
Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Thirteen Israelis died.
Tunisia’s foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday “to provide all political support for Gaza” the spokesman for the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.
The United States asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket attacks.
Hamas refuses to recognise Israel’s right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognise Israel, but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.
Abbas’s supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to have Palestine declared an “observer state” rather than a mere “entity” at the United Nations later this month.