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Continued: Death toll mounts in Gaza from Israeli offensive; rockets hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv

  • Article by: JOSEF FEDERMAN , Associated Press
  • Last update: July 8, 2014 - 11:28 PM

"If we need to go inside in a ground operation, then we will do it. These things are on the table. These options exist. We will not stop anything until the rocket firing ends," said Yitzhak Aharonovitch, the minister for internal security and a member of Netanyahu's inner Security Cabinet. Israel's last ground offensive was in 2009.

Asked by Channel 2 TV if there were any efforts underway to reach a cease-fire, he said: "Not now."

The U.S. State Department condemned the rocket fire on Israeli civilians, defended Israel's right to protect itself, and said it hoped Israel's "strong message" would deter further attacks. "But certainly, our preference is to de-escalate the situation on the ground," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Israel and Hamas, which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state, agreed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that ended the last round of fighting in late 2012.

In Gaza, Abu Obeida, a masked spokesman for Hamas' military wing, accused Israel of violating that agreement and demanded a halt to the airstrikes, its recent crackdown in the West Bank and its opposition to a Palestinian unity government that is backed by Hamas.

"In the face of this aggression, we affirm that the Zionist enemy should not dream of calm and stability," he said.

Hamas, however, is far weaker than in 2012. At the time, Egypt was governed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' close ally. Following a military coup in 2013, Egypt's new government is hostile to Hamas and has closed a network of smuggling tunnels used by the group as an economic lifeline.

Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the rival forces of President Mahmoud Abbas. But facing international isolation and an economic crisis, Hamas last month agreed to back a new unity government with Abbas.

Abbas, however, has little real influence over Gaza. Hamas, with an arsenal of thousands of rockets, remains the dominant power there. Smaller and more radical forces are also involved in rocket fire from Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the multiple rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza and demanded an immediate halt to the attacks, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby called for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to stop the violence.

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