World / Middle East

Israeli army prepared to widen Gaza operation

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-11-18 21:42

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning said that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is prepared to widen Operation Pillar of Defense if necessary.

"We are exacting a heavy price from the Hamas and other militant organizations, and the IDF is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations," the prime minister added during the cabinet's weekly meeting.

"Reservists and conscript soldiers are ready for any order they might receive," he said.

Netanyahu also confirmed that Israeli Air Force struck nearly 1, 000 targets in the Gaza Strip, including top militants, caches of long-range missiles, smuggling tunnels and launch pads.

"The IDF is achieving significant hits on weapons aimed towards Israeli citizens, as well as those who use these weapons and those who dispatch them," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu updated his ministers of his discussions with world leaders over the past two days, trying to convince the Israeli government to avoid a ground invasion which may cost many lives.

Members of the Israeli cabinet are set to approve during the meeting an additional budget of NIS 750 million (about 194 million U.S. dollars) to deploy more Iron Dome anti-missile batteries.

In addition, the cabinet approved an allocation of NIS 7.6 million (1.97 million dollars) to complete the construction of protected daycare centers in communities within a 0-7 km range from the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, Operation Pillar of Defense entered its fifth day. Despite reports of efforts to achieve a cease fire, and a relatively calm night, fighting continued between Israel and the Gaza militant groups.

Three Israelis were wounded as a result of shrapnel on Sunday morning. Two were lightly wounded in Ashkelon after a rocket hit their building. A firefighter in the Sha'ar Hanegev community suffered mediocre wounds after shrapnel scrapped his face and he's treated at the Be'er Sheva Soroka hospital.

Also on Sunday, a fourth barrage of rockets within three days was launched towards Tel Aviv. The Iron Dome battery deployed in the area on Saturday intercepted two rockets.

Another rocket landed in an open field south of Tel Aviv and its shrapnel caused damages to a nearby car which went up in flames. No injuries were reported.

On Saturday evening, speculation over a cease-fire agreement started to surface, as well as a possible ground invasion into the Gaza Strip, on the other hand.

According to a report in a Lebanese news channel claiming Israel is sending a delegate to sign on a cease-fire treaty, a claim denied by Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

Later on that evening, Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, who is coordinating most of the efforts to reach a lull in the fighting, said there are "indications" of a nearing cease-fire.

On Saturday, Netanyahu told German Chancellor Angela Merkel there won't be a cease-fire until all rocket fire from the strip came to a halt.

On Friday evening, Israeli cabinet approved the draft of 75,000 reservists. Tens of thousands have already been drafted, heading south towards the border with Gaza, where battalions are on stand- by for a possible invasion.

The IDF spokesperson, Yoav Mordechai, said on Saturday the operation wouldn't last a day or two and won't stop until Israel achieves its goals of squashing militant infrastructure and restore the calm to Israel's southern communities.

He said the IDF destroyed most of the long-range Fajr-5 missile caches, but added there's still a "huge arsenal of missiles" to be dealt with.

The IDF spokesperson said about 600 rockets were fired towards Israel, mainly to its southern communities, since the operation began, with Iron Dome batteries shooting down 243 of them.

The Palestinians reported that 45 people have been killed, among them 17 civilians, during the IDF's operation and 400 people have been wounded.

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