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Israel Extends Offensive as Gazans Seek Shelter

Israeli forces dropped leaflets yesterday and left voice and text messages urging residents in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya to leave because it intends to attack “terrorists and terror infrastructure,” the army said. About 17,000 Gazans of all ages sought refuge in shelters run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, spokesman Chris Gunness said on Twitter.

As trucks carrying tanks traveled south to the Gaza border, Israel edged closer to its first ground assault on the territory since 2009 and world leaders appealed for a cease-fire. The  Palestinian Authority  appealed to the United Nations yesterday for international protection.

Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu  said at his weekly cabinet meeting in  Jerusalem  that Israel will act “vigorously in order to achieve the goal of the operation -- the restoration of quiet for a long period while inflicting a significant blow on Hamas and the other terrorist organizations.”

According to Gaza’s Health Ministry, 169 Palestinians have died since Israel intensified its airstrikes on the territory last week while militants fired rockets on Israeli communities. At least 1,125 have been injured.

Photographer: Thomas Coex/AFP via Getty Images

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More Rockets

More than 130 rockets hit Israel yesterday and about 1,100 have been launched since July 8, according to the Israeli military. One of them hit an Israeli power facility that supplies Gaza, cutting electricity to 70,000 Palestinians in the territory, the military said in a text message.

Netanyahu is facing increasing pressure within his cabinet to mount a full-scale attack on Gaza using ground troops instead of relying primarily on its air power. While Israelis largely support the bombing of Hamas targets, the prime minister runs the risk of appearing weak if Gaza rockets keep hitting  Tel Aviv  and other Israeli cities, said Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel.

“At some point he’s going to be forced to live up to his rhetoric unless enough pressure can be brought to bear to produce a cease-fire,” Meital said.

Amid the barrage from Gaza in southern Israel yesterday, at least one missile was fired from  Syria  in the north and landed in the Israeli-occupied  Golan Heights , causing a blaze responded to by firefighters, the army said. Israeli forces responded with artillery fire.

Gaza Battleground

Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, meanwhile, warned that hackers in Gaza and elsewhere were planting phony messages in its name about terrorist attacks that didn’t happen, which could cause viruses or siphon data if opened. It also advised journalists to double-check reports they receive for authenticity.

U.S. Secretary of State  John Kerry  pushed for a truce in a call with Netanyahu, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation. Kerry said the U.S. was willing to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, the official said.

Hamas-controlled Gaza has become a regular battleground for Israel and Palestinians since the Israelis evacuated the territory in 2005 after a 38-year occupation. Hamas uses the strip as a platform to attack Israel, which together with  Egypt  sharply restricts the movement of people and goods to and from the enclave. Two major Israeli air and ground offensives against Hamas’s military capabilities since 2009 have only temporarily quashed the rocket fire.

The U.S. and European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Restraint Urged

The benchmark Tel-Aviv 25 Index closed up 1.3 percent in Tel Aviv yesterday as investors bet the clashes will have a limited effect on the economy and energy companies raised estimates for gas reserves off Israel’s coast.

The violence is straining the Palestinian health system, and the  World Health Organization  appealed for $60 million to help prevent its collapse. Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Omar and Health Minister Jawad Awad will head to Gaza for the first time since the Palestinians formed a Hamas-backed government in June, according to a government statement.

Dozens of civilian deaths in Gaza have prompted calls from world leaders for Israeli restraint. “There are always going to be civilian casualties, which we regret,” Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday. “But we have to defend our people, and that’s what we’ll do.”

A Long Time

No Israelis have died from rocket fire, although a 16-year-old teenager was badly hurt in an attack yesterday, Channel 2 TV said. Netanyahu accused Hamas of exposing Gaza civilians to danger by putting militants and weapons in mosques and hospitals, and near schools.

“We don’t know how long the campaign will carry on,” he said in comments to his cabinet, according to an e-mailed statement from his office. “It may take a long time.”

Israeli soldiers entered Gaza briefly on Saturday night to destroy a rocket-launching site and four were slightly wounded in an exchange of fire with militants, the army said. It was the first ground deployment since hostilities intensified though not the full-fledged ground incursion that Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, have signaled may come.

(Source: Bloomberg)