Over 100 dead in Israel airstrikes as fears of ground invasion grow

July 12, 2014 08:27 am | Updated November 16, 2021 06:48 pm IST - Tel Aviv/Gaza City

Palestinian firefighters walk around a boat hit in an missile strike at the port in Gaza City on Friday.

Palestinian firefighters walk around a boat hit in an missile strike at the port in Gaza City on Friday.

The Israeli air offensive this week in the Gaza Strip has claimed 113 Palestinian lives, nearly half of them women and children, medics said Saturday as Israel moved three infantry brigades closer to the coastal enclave in preparation for a possible ground offensive.

Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for emergency services in the Gaza Strip, said an Israeli airstrike early Saturday killed five Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip area of Jabalia.

Two others were also killed in a strike in the town of Deir el-ballah, he said.

The Palestinian health ministry said that since the beginning of the Israeli offensive 113 Palestinians have been killed and 780 wounded.

Most of the injured and dead have been civilians, including women and children, according to the ministry.

Meanwhile, the Israeli troop build-up near the border with Gaza was to be strengthened by one or two further brigades in the coming days, Israel military spokesman Peter Lerner said.

The preparations were being carried out as the United Nations questioned whether Israel’s repeated airstrikes are legal, given the high number of civilian casualties. So far, the air force has hit more than 1,000 targets in the Gaza Strip since the operation began early Tuesday, the military said.

Military officials, including Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, stressed that any decision on a ground operation would be taken by the political leadership but the military was ready to act.

The US ambassador to Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro, told Army Radio that “no one wants a ground operation, and we have the desire to see Hamas stop firing rockets and missiles. In that case, Israel has the full American backing.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on whether a ground invasion would take place.

“We are prepared for all possibilities,” he said at a press conference in Tel Aviv. He stressed that the purpose of the mission was to end rocket fire from Gaza.

Those launches by militants from the Gaza Strip deep into Israeli territory prompted operations at the main Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv to be temporarily suspended Friday morning, but flights have since resumed.

Hamas said it fired four M-75 missiles, the group’s newer and longer-reaching rockets, at the airport and warned foreign carriers that it would continue to attempt to hit Ben Gurion.

Rockets have fallen regularly in southern and central Israel, forcing people to run for bomb shelters.

So far, about 20,000 Israeli reserve soldiers have been called up for duty.

There are shortages of medicines and medical supplies in Gaza, and many chronic patients are unable to receive treatment, according to al-Qedra and the World Health Organization.

The UN said the “targeting and destruction of residential buildings in Gaza continues to be the main cause of civilian casualties,” adding that 340 homes have been destroyed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said attacks against civilians from any side of the conflict are against international law while it condemned an incident in which Palestinian medics were injured.

“A dozen staff and volunteers were wounded and three ambulances destroyed” in a strike that hit the Palestine Red Crescent branch in Jabaliya, northern Gaza, it said.

UN High Commission for Human Rights Navi Pillay has questioned whether Israel’s airstrikes are legal, citing the high number civilian casualties.

“Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Pillay said.

Analysts said Netanyahu likely was intent on ending the rocket fire from Gaza but it is not looking to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, where the group runs the government.

“The priority for Israel is to strike a balance between weakening Hamas so much that its control of Gaza is jeopardized but hitting it hard enough to satisfy the Israeli electorate and the coalition and to deter Hamas for what they hope will be several months or a year,” said Nathan Thrall with the International Crisis Group.

Hamas is looking to extract certain concessions from Israel, including relaxing the restrictions on the Gaza Strip, as part of a ceasefire deal, Thrall said.

Its tactics means there is little chance of an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Meanwhile, missiles were fired into Israeli territory from Lebanon for the first time since Israel launched its offensive on Gaza. One person was arrested.

No immediate claims of responsibility were made for the attack, but it was linked to a radical Sunni Muslim group.

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