Rocket fire from Gaza continued to pummel Israel’s south on Monday night, as Israeli leaders hinted that a ground operation into Gaza may be in the offing.
Meanwhile, terror leaders in Gaza met to decide how to go forward against Israel after a third day of attacks.
A Gaza spokesperson said the continued firing of rockets would depend on whether Israel stopped hitting targets in the Gaza Strip, AFP reported. The statement seemed to hint at the opening for a possible ceasefire.
Hours earlier, another Hamas spokesman had dismissed talk that a ceasefire was in the works.
The group issued a statement blaming Israel for the current round of fighting and reserving “the Palestinian nation’s right to defend itself.”
Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered 50 ambassadors in Ashkelon, within rocket range, to tell them that their governments would not tolerate a similar situation.
As of Monday evening, over 160 rockets and mortar shells had hit Israel since Saturday. More than 40 Israelis were reported lightly injured, mostly suffering from shock and light shrapnel injuries.
A volley of Grad rockets were fired at towns in the south just after nightfall, with a number landing near Beersheba, Netivot and Ofakim.
Two rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome anti-missile system near Ofakim. No injuries or damage were reported.
Three rockets landed in open areas near Sderot before 10 p.m. No injuries or damage were reported.
Earlier in the day, 26 people were treated for shock after a direct hit on a home in Netivot. A second missile hit a factory in the city’s industrial zone in the afternoon.
The resumption of rocket fire followed a relatively quiet night amid unconfirmed reports of a ceasefire. Sunday saw over 100 rockets fired at Israel, with several people treated for light injuries and shock around the south.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu started taking steps to shore up international support for a possible military ground operation into Gaza that would aim to quell the ongoing rocket fire from the strip.
“The world must understand that Israel has the right and obligation to defend its citizens,” he told some 50 ambassadors in Ashkelon. “We will not sit idly in front of recurrent attacks that occur almost daily, against our citizens and our children. More than one million citizens have to live in a reality where within 15 or 30 seconds they need to find shelter against terrorists who shoot at civilians, while the terrorists themselves hide behind civilians. That’s a double war crime.
“None of your governments would accept such a situation,” he said. We do not accept such a situation, and I, as prime minister of Israel, am not prepared to accept this situation, and we will act to stop it.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz met with Netanyahu Monday night to present him with their assessment of a possible military escalation against the Gaza Strip. Another meeting of senior ministers was scheduled for Tuesday morning.
President Shimon Peres told CNN that Israel was not seeking an escalation of hostilities, but would do whatever was necessary to protect its citizens.
“No country in the world would agree to it — without exception,” Peres said. “[The Israeli government] shall try to stop it by all the means we can mobilize and use… we don’t think that we’re defenseless.”
He added that the international community should cut off funding to Hamas as long as they remained belligerent.
The rocket fire began on Saturday night, touched off by an Israeli airstrike that followed an attack on an Israeli jeep patrolling near the border that left four soldiers injured.
A government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, neither denied nor confirmed reports that Israel was planning a ground invasion into Gaza. “Different options are being looked at,” he told The Times of Israel. “It’s more than possible that there will be a need to reassert Israeli deterrence,” the official said.
“Netanyahu wants to make sure that the international community will understand the reasons if Israel is forced to act,” the official said ahead of the prime minister’s meeting with the senior diplomats.
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said Sunday that an extensive ground operation for Gaza was being planned.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she condemned the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel and called on both sides “to refrain from exacerbating the situation.”
“Further regrettable loss of life and injury must be avoided. I support the mediation efforts by Egypt and reiterate that there is no place for violence in the Middle East. It is only through resumed negotiations that the legitimate aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis will be met, through a two-state solution,” Ashton said in a statement.
The French Foreign Ministry similarly condemned the rocket fire into Israel and called, asking both sides to exercise ” great restraint to avoid any additional escalation.”
During Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to “intensify” its response to the ongoing rocket fire. “The IDF is operating, and will operate, aggressively against the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, which are taking heavy blows from the IDF. The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit idly by in the face of attempts to attack us. We are prepared to intensify the response
Defense Minister Barak said Israel would not hesitate to reenter Gaza: “If we are forced to go back into Gaza in order to deal Hamas a [serious] blow and restore security for all of Israel’s citizens, then we will not hesitate to do so.