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Diplomats at the United Nations said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt in the coming week to push for an end to the fighting.
POSSIBLE GROUND OFFENSIVE
Israel, though, with tanks and artillery positioned along the frontier, signalled it was still weighing a possible ground offensive into Gaza.
Israeli cabinet ministers decided on Friday to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000 and around 16,000 reservists have already been called up.
Asked by reporters whether a ground operation was possible, Major-General Tal Russo, commander of the Israeli forces on the Gaza frontier, said: “Definitely.”
“We have a plan. … It will take time. We need to have patience. It won’t be a day or two,” he added.
Another senior commander briefing reporters on condition of anonymity said Israel had scored “good achievements” in striking at nearly 1,000 targets, with the aim of ridding Hamas of firepower imported from Libya, Sudan and Iran.
A possible move into the densely populated Gaza Strip and the risk of major casualties it brings would be a significant gamble for Netanyahu, favourite to win a January national election.
Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year’s period of 2008-09, killed over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict.
But the Gaza conflagration has stirred the pot of a Middle East already boiling from two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.
One major change has been the election of an Islamist government in Cairo that is allied with Hamas, potentially narrowing Israel’s manoeuvring room in confronting the Palestinian group. Israel and Egypt made peace in 1979.