“The target was not journalists,” military spokeswoman Avital Leibovich told reporters in Jerusalem. “The journalists in these buildings were serving as human shields for Hamas.”
‘Extracting a heavy price’
The Israeli prime minister hailed the early results of the operation. “We are extracting a heavy price from Hamas and the terror organizations,” Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday during the opening session of the weekly cabinet meeting. “The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation.”
Officials said Israel targeted more than 50 “terror sites” Sunday, including underground rocket-launching sites and tunnels. Israel has activated reservists for a possible ground incursion into Gaza, which could markedly intensify the fighting and increase the death toll.
Arieh Herzog, who formerly led Israel’s missile defense program, said Sunday that militants in Gaza have stockpiled thousands of rockets in recent years. “They are far from finishing their stockpile,” he said. “We can expect if any political decision doesn’t stop this, they can continue fighting for many days.”
Cease-fire negotiations in Cairo appeared to make little headway Sunday, although Hamas’s newly strong standing was underscored as the group’s top leader in exile, Khaled Meshal, met with Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
An Israeli envoy arrived in Cairo on Sunday, the Associated Press reported, citing anonymous Egyptian security sources, but as fighting in Gaza escalated, it was far from clear whether the visit was a prelude to a deal. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon planned to visit Cairo on Monday to discuss the situation.
Prospect of ground invasion
Recalling the ground invasion during the 2008-2009 conflict, Gaza residents have begun to warily contemplate a new round of street fighting. After prayers at the mosque in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the center of the strip, an imam delivered a fiery sermon filled with local news.
Palestinian fighters had shot down an Israeli Apache helicopter over Gaza City to the north, the preacher announced, the latest in a string of rumors in recent days that have turned out to be false. Each time, though, they have raised the prospect of an imminent ground invasion.
Some in the camp think Hamas is strong enough to deter such a move this time around, said Basil Harb, a university lecturer.
“People say the Israeli troops are afraid of coming into Gaza,” he said.
The angst sometimes gives way to dark humor. Harb said he started to add a new level to the family home last week before the Israeli air offensive started but decided to put the work on hold. “I still need to knock down a wall,” he said, then added with a grin: “I thought about calling the Israelis to send a drone to do it. But what if they sent an F-16 instead and then the whole house would be flattened?”
His brother Sami and their aging mother burst into laughter. But the mood turned dark a moment later. Death has become so normal here, Basil Harb said.
“War, after war, after war,” he lamented.
Hauslohner reported from Gaza. Karin Brulliard in Jerusalem, Reyham Abdul-Karim in Gaza and Michael Birnbaum in Cairo contributed to this report.