BY: ISABEL KERSHNER, FARES AKRAM & RICK GLADSTONE
Brushing aside criticism of Israel’s four-day-old aerial attacks on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday he felt no international pressure to quit the operation and would not rule out a Gaza strip, round invasion to stop the barrages of rockets from Palestinian militants.
“We are weighing all possibilities and preparing for all possibilities,” Netanyahu told reporters at a news conference in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu, who has spoken with the leaders of the US, Russia and the United Nations among others since Israel began the aerial assaults, also said the Israelis had hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and still had more to go.
“No international pressure will prevent us from striking the terrorists who are attacking us,” Netanyahu was quoted by news agencies as saying.
He spoke as Palestinian health officials in Gaza reported at least eight more deaths from Israeli airstrikes early Friday, pushing the number of fatalities over 100, many of them civilians, including women and children. Hundreds more have been reported wounded, and neither side has shown any inclination to de-escalate.
Militants based in Gaza launched an intense volley of rockets into southern and central Israel on Friday, and said they had barely dented their arsenal of rockets amassed over the past few years. The barrage caused multiple civilian injuries on the Israeli side for the first time since the latest upsurge.
In another ominous signal, a rocket was launched from Lebanon that struck open ground in northern Israel, putting Israeli forces in the north on alert and raising the spectre of confrontation on a second front. An Israeli military official said it was too early to determine whether the act was “symbolic or something more substantial.”
Israel responded with artillery fire aimed at the launch site in Lebanon, according to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military. He said it was not immediately clear whether Hezbollah, the Shia organization against which Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006, was responsible for the rocket fire from Lebanon.
Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates Gaza, and Islamic Jihad have both claimed responsibility for rocket barrages that have reached much deeper into Israel than in the past and hit new targets spread across a wide area of the country.
The military wing of Hamas said it had warned foreign airlines to suspend flights to the “Zionist entity,” meaning Israel, citing the risks involved because of the fighting. In a statement on its website, the group claimed to have hit Ben-Gurion International Airport, just outside Tel Aviv, on Friday morning.
“So far Hamas has utilized only a little of what it has prepared for the Zionist enemy,” the group’s military wing said. “We have prepared ourselves for a very long battle… not for a week or 10 days, as some have said.”