- Barrages since Monday have killed top commanders, including intelligence chief and head of rocket-making
- Hamas requested ceasefire last night on ‘mutual basis’ after launching 1,000 rockets – leaving 7 Israelis dead
- But Israel has vowed to press on with its military campaign despite outcry from the international community
- UN has warned of ‘full-scale war’ as the number of Palestinians killed in airstrikes reached 83 on Thursday
- ‘The campaign is still far from over,’ Israeli cabinet minister said last night. ‘Whatever we don’t do now, we will have to do in six months or a year from now … Israel will not stop and has no interest in stopping.’
- Plans for a ground invasion were being drafted for the IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi later today
- Troops have been deployed along the Gaza border in preparation for any orders from the top brass
Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a peace offering from Hamas as Israel today deployed troops along the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion as both sides exchanged relentless bombardments.
More than 600 Israeli air strikes since Monday have levelled Islamist bases and slain nine top commanders including the Hamas 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 – 83 people have been killed, including 17 children.
Troops were today ordered to the Gaza border in ‘various stages of preparing ground operations’, a military spokesman said, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2008-2009.
‘The campaign is still far from over,’ a minister said after a cabinet meeting last night 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 approval by Israeli Defence Force Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi 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.’
As Joe Biden and Boris Johnson made appeals for calm yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a forceful partisan 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.
As well as the nine Hamas commanders, the IDF say they have killed another 60 Hamas officers.
The fighting has sparked violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in ugly scenes which have not been witnessed for more than 20 years.
Twenty were injured last night as mobs attacked each other in the central city of Lod which has been the epicentre for the troubles despite a curfew imposed earlier this week and a state of emergency declared by Netanyahu.
Israeli police said two people were shot and wounded while an Israeli Jew was stabbed on his way to the synagogue by a Muslim Arab on Thursday morning despite the deployment of additional security forces.
Dozens of people were arrested there and in other towns across Israel where clashes and rioting broke out.
A Jewish man was left in intensive care after being beaten with metal bars and rocks by an Arab gang in the northern city of Acre.
In Jerusalem, a 25-year-old Arab employee was set upon by a gang of Jews while taking out the rubbish. He was stabbed in the neck and remains in hospital, according to the Israel National News.
In the coastal city of Bat Yam, less than ten miles from Lod, Israeli nationalists attacked an Arab motorist, dragging him from his car and beating him until he was motionless.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who celebrated a Ramadan ‘iftar’ meal just weeks ago, on Wednesday condemned what he termed a ‘pogrom’ by a ‘blood-thirsty Arab mob.’
‘The sight of the pogroms in Lod and the disturbances across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob, injuring people, damaging property and even attacking sacred Jewish spaces is unforgivable,’ Rivlin said in a rare strongly-worded statement on Wednesday.