Additional troops have been moved to the Gazan border, including soldiers from the Paratroopers Brigade, the Golani Infantry Brigade, and the 7th Armored Brigade, IDF spokesperson Brigadier General Hidai Zilberman told reporters on Thursday.
Zilberman said the plan for a possible invasion into Gaza would be presented to IDF Chief of Staff General Aviv Kochavi later on Thursday. “We are ready to maneuver and, in principle, the IDF had approved several different plans for a ground offensive,” the spokesperson said, noting that the final decision to cross the border had not yet been made by the government.
The IDF said the Palestinian militant group Hamas had launched more than 1,500 rockets into the cities of southern and central Israel since May 10, forcing many to hide in bomb shelters and killing six civilians, including a six-year-old boy, and an IDF soldier.
In response, Israel bombed over 650 targets in Gaza, destroying several high-rise buildings in the densely populated Palestinian enclave. Israel’s armed forces reportedly killed dozens of Hamas operatives, including several of the group’s top commanders. Gazan health officials, meanwhile, said that 69 Palestinians, including 17 children, were killed in the airstrikes as of Thursday.
Zilberman said the IDF had expanded the scope of the air raids and had begun destroying “central banks and internal security buildings” in Gaza. “Hamas is beginning to discover cracks and there is pressure in the organization, even among the Gaza public, who is losing its patience and sees these ruins” ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, he said.
Hamas began firing rockets after clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in West Jerusalem – the third-holiest site for Muslims across the world. The escalation was preceded by protests and violence over the looming eviction of several Palestinian families from their homes in an Arab neighborhood near Jerusalem’s Old City.
Israeli media reported that, on Wednesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informed the government that he had rejected a Hamas ceasefire proposal. According to the Ynet news website, the PM was referring to the phone call between senior Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook and Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Middle East.
According to the readout of the call published by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Marzook said that Hamas was ready to cease attacks on Israel “on a mutual basis” if the international community pressured Tel Aviv to stop “forceful actions” in Al-Aqsa.
Netanyahu earlier said that Hamas would pay a “heavy price” for attacking Israelis.
In the same vein, Mohammed Deif, who leads Hamas’ military wing, warned that Israel would pay a similarly heavy price if the “aggression” against Palestinians in West Jerusalem did not stop.