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Netanyahu: Ground assault still an option

- No international pressure will prevent us from striking the terrorists, says Israel Prime Minister

Jerusalem, July 11: Brushing aside criticism of Israel’s four-day-old aerial attacks on Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today he felt no international pressure to quit the operation and would not rule out a ground 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 UN among others since Israel began the aerial assaults, 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 today, pushing the number of fatalities toward 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.

No outside mediator has stepped in yet to broker a renewal of the cease-fire that came into effect after the last round of fierce, cross-border fighting, in November 2012.

Militants based in Gaza launched an intense volley of rockets into southern and central Israel today, 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 of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities escalated into a military confrontation.

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 organisation against which Israel fought a 34-day war in 2006, was responsible for the rocket fire from Lebanon.

In an emergency appeal for funds, the World Health Organisation said the hostilities had exacerbated an already stressed Palestinian health system, particularly in isolated Gaza.

“The recent escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip raises concern about the ability of the government and the ministry of health of the occupied Palestinian territory to cope with the increased burden of medical emergencies on the health system, given the high levels of shortages of medicines, medical disposables and hospital fuel supplies, and rising health care debt,” the organisation’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean said in a statement.

The statement said the organisation and the Palestinian ministry of health were “calling on local and international donors to support the ministry in coping with the current, difficult situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, especially in the Gaza Strip, that is affecting the health and welfare of Palestinians”.

 
 
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