Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) — Israel’s cabinet agreed to call up as many as 7,000 army reservists, signaling that two days of air raids on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip may be followed by a ground invasion to halt rocket attacks.
“This will be a long, difficult and painful operation,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told ministers in Jerusalem today, according to Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel, before the call-up was approved by a committee of parliament.
As many as 285 Palestinians have been killed in the raids, the deadliest such attack since the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel began the bombardment yesterday after dozens of rockets were fired by Islamic militants at its southern towns following the Dec. 19 expiration of a six-month cease-fire with Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Warplanes today struck Hamas government offices in Gaza and 40 tunnels dug under the border with Egypt to bypass an Israeli blockade.
“It is clear to everyone that there is no way to end this without some sort of ground offensive,” Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Planning at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center in Israel, said of the call-up. “This is one of the lessons learned from the second Lebanon War, that air strikes alone cannot prevent missile or rocket attacks.”
In 2006, Israel waged a monthlong war against the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah in southern Lebanon after the militia abducted three soldiers in a cross-border attack. The government was criticized following an official inquiry for going to war too hastily and for overdependence on air strikes.
The current action will probably last several weeks, said Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. “At some stage there will be a cease-fire brokered by the United Nations or the international community, perhaps involving Egypt,” he said.
Twenty rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since midnight, and the Israeli air force aimed 30 strikes at launch areas and weapon-storage facilities, an army spokesman said, citing regulations for speaking on condition of anonymity.
Hamas said in an e-mailed statement that Israeli planes struck this morning at the offices of its leader and former Palestinian Authority prime minister Ismail Haniya, who was not reported harmed. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union.
Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers began taking up positions overnight at points outside the perimeter fence of the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported. The army refused to comment on the report.
‘Boots on the Ground’
In an interview broadcast on Fox News, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel would expand the air strikes to a ground operation if necessary. “If boots on the ground will be needed, they will be there,” he said.
Stocks and bonds fell in Israel, with the TA-25 Index declining 15.65, or 2.5 percent, to 619.28 at 3:28 p.m. That brought its decline to 49 percent for the year. The benchmark Mimshal Shiklit note fell for the first time in four sessions, with the yield rising 6 basis points to 4.8 percent as of 3:36 p.m. in Tel Aviv.
The attacks on Gaza triggered global calls for restraint.
The United Nations Security Council called early today for an immediate end to all military activities in the Gaza Strip, according to a statement on the UN Web site. The statement didn’t mention Israel or Hamas30.
“I implore an end to this violence that must be condemned in all its forms, and the restoration of the truce in the Gaza Strip,” Pope Benedict XVI said after Sunday mass in Rome.
U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, called for restraint.
At least 10 Arab governments agreed to hold an emergency meeting in Doha, Qatar to call for an end to the attacks, Al- Jazeera television reported.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the prime-ministerial candidate of the ruling Kadima Party in elections scheduled for Feb. 10, acknowledged that Israel could expect mounting criticism the longer the operation went on and the more civilian casualties there were.
“Israel will not back down from its demands and will not be satisfied with superficial solutions to the problematic situation in the south,” she said in comments to the Cabinet sent by pager to journalists.
Asked later in an interview with Fox News whether Israel plans a ground assault, Livni said “all the options are open.”
More than 100 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza since the operation started yesterday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. At least 200 rockets and mortar shells were launched at Israel in the past week, and 3,000 had been fired since the beginning of the year, an army spokesman said. One man was killed in Netivot yesterday.
In excess of 90 percent of Gaza’s police installations affiliated with Hamas were destroyed in yesterday’s strikes and both the police chief and the head of internal security were killed, Palestinian officials said.
“All Gaza hospitals are in a status of emergency, suffering from a severe lack of medical aid and equipment,” said Mu’awia Hassanein, chief of emergency services in the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The army said it let in 30 trucks carrying 160 tons of humanitarian aid, including food, medicine and other supplies at the request of international agencies working in Gaza. Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza after Hamas won elections in 2006, periodically lifting the siege to allow goods to enter.
Olmert called on all political parties to put aside differences and unite behind the army as it fights Hamas in Gaza in remarks to ministers today.
“There is a time for disagreements and a time for unity, and now is a time for unity,” opposition Likud leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast on Israel Army radio.
Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak, who heads the Labor party, are vying for the post of prime minister.
To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org; Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza City through the Tel Aviv newsroomt .
Last Updated: December 28, 2008 10:31 EST
By Gwen Ackerman and Saud Abu Ramadan