Israel on Tuesday rejected any truce with Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip before cross-border rocket fire ceased and said its air strikes, the fiercest in decades, heralded “long weeks of military action”.
Israeli ground forces massed on the border of the coastal enclave for a possible invasion while Israeli warplanes pressed on for the fourth day with attacks on Hamas targets, killing 12 Palestinians. They included sisters aged 10 and 12.
Medical officials put Palestinian casualties since Israel launched its attacks on Saturday at 370 dead with more than 800 wounded. A United Nations agency said at least 64 of the dead were civilians.
Three Israeli civilians and a soldier have been killed by Palestinian rockets since the air strikes began.
Israeli media quoted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as telling President Shimon Peres that the Gaza operation was in “the first of a several stages”.
With six weeks to go to an election that polls suggest the hawkish right-wing Likud party will win, Israel’s centrist government says the attacks aim to stop the rockets.
The United Nations has called for an immediate truce. But Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said “there is no room for a ceasefire” with Hamas until the threat of rocket fire had been removed.