Israeli army forces are " prepared for a ground operation" into the Gaza Strip, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday during his visit to an Iron Dome anti-missile battery deployed in the greater Tel Aviv area.
"We don't necessarily have any certainty on the need to carry out an attack, but we won't hold back for long in carrying it out, but rather sooner than later if events demand it," Barak said.
Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz told soldiers massed near Gaza on Sunday that " fighting in built-up areas is a challenge," hinting at the possible onset of an incursion into the coastal enclave, Army radio reported.
The army said its aircraft on Sunday targeted what it described as "50 terror sites throughout the Gaza Strip, including under- ground rocket launching sites" and tunnels, inflicting what it said was "severe damage on militants' rocket launching capabilities."
The Air Force also hit Hamas' communication antenna and infrastructure atop two buildings in the northern Gaza Strip, an IDF spokesman told Xinhua in a statement, stressing that reporters housed within the two buildings were explicitly not the targets of their bombing.
On Sunday afternoon, Israeli aircraft killed Yahyia Byya, who officials said headed Hamas' rocket program and was responsible for much of the fire into Israel.
In a cabinet statement sent to Xinhua, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The IDF has attacked over 1,000 terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip and it is continuing its operations as we speak. It is achieving significant hits on weapons aimed at Israeli citizens, as well as on those who use these weapons and those who dispatch them."
Speaking at the weekly session, Netanyahu said Israel was " exacting a heavy price from Hamas and other terrorist organizations, and the IDF is prepared for a significant expansion of its operations."
Netanyahu lauded what he said was "the rapid and impressive mobilization of the reservists who have come from all over the country and turned out for the mission at hand. Reservist and conscript soldiers are ready for any order they might receive."
UN chief strongly urges "immediate ceasefire" between Israel, Palestinian militants
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday strongly urged Israel and Palestinian militants "to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate cease," saying that "any further escalation will inevitably increase the suffering of the affected civilian populations."
The secretary-general made the statement after Israel and the Palestinian militants brushed aside the call of the international community for an immediate end to the air strikes on Gaza and the rocket firing into southern Israel by widening Gaza assault and continuous rocket firing against Israeli towns.
"This must stop," Ban said. "I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate cease fire."
"Any further escalation will inevitably increase the suffering of the affected civilian populations and must be avoided, " the secretary-general said.
Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes continued on Sunday as the Israeli Operation Pillar of Defense entered its fifth day.
On Saturday, Israel broadened its assault on the Gaza Strip from mostly military targets to centers of government infrastructure, obliterating the four-story headquarters of the leading Hamas officials with a barrage of five bombs before dawn, media reports said.
Another barrage of rockets was launched from the Gaza Strip to Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, for the second time in 24 hours, the reports said.
Hamas health officials said that 45 Palestinians had been killed and 385 others wounded since Wednesday's escalation in the cross-border battle, the reports said. In Israel, three Israeli civilians have died and 63 have been injured. Four Israeli soldiers were also wounded on Saturday.
"I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than ten members of the Dalu family, including women and children, and additional Palestinian civilians killed as a result of the ongoing violence in the Gaza strip," Ban said in a statement issued here.
"I am also alarmed by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which has killed several Israeli civilians, " the secretary-general said.
"I am heading to the region to appeal personally for ending the violence and contribute to ongoing efforts to that end," Ban said.
Operation Pillar of Defense comes almost four years after Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, which also aimed to stop Palestinian groups from targeting cities and communities in southern Israel.
Parallel to the fighting, diplomatic efforts are being undertaken mainly by Egypt, along with UN and the United States, to negotiate a ceasefire between the two sides.
According to the Israeli news site Ynet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised U.S. President Barack Obama that Israel won't initiate a ground operation unless Hamas escalated its rocket fire.
The Israeli government "will give a chance to the opportunity of a ceasefire, but if there is not an agreement with Egyptian, it will order a ground operation tomorrow (Monday) or the day after tomorrow," the reports added.
Tehran meeting on Syria emphasizes peaceful solution, opposes foreign interference: Iranian FM
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi said here Sunday that all the participants in the meeting on Syria in Iran's capital of Tehran unanimously emphasize peaceful solution to the Syrian conflicts and oppose foreign interference.
At the end of the first day of the National Syrian Dialogue Meeting, the Iranian minister told reporters that the gathering stresses respect for the national unity and sovereignty of Syria, its territorial integrity and the acknowledgement of legitimate demands of the Syrian people.
The meeting expresses its opposition to violence of any kind as a means to impose the demands on people, he said, adding that in line with this the participants condemn resorting to arms which spreads violence to an uncontrollable dimension.
Therefore, controlling the borders of Syria is one of the mechanisms to prevent arms smuggling into the country, which the participants agree on, said Salehi.
In the meantime, the meeting voices for the implementation of reforms which the Syrian government has already pledged to fulfill, said Salehi.
It has also been suggested that the dislocated Syrians, both inside and outside the country be supported by the whole Syrian community, he added.
Besides, the participants are in agreement to establish a committee to follow up the Syrian national discourse and to extend it to those opposition parties which have not attended the Tehran meeting, he said.
Salehi said solidarity against Israel is the point on which the Syrian participants in the meeting also agree. They think Syria suffers the current crisis due to the fact that it is the major resisting front against Israel, he pointed out.
The Iranian foreign minister stated that his country believes there should be no prescription by the foreigners to the Syrian people about their own internal affairs, saying that the Islamic republic's role in assisting the Syrians is to facilitate bringing the opposition and the Syrian government to a negotiation table.
Iran has reiterated that it seeks a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis and by no means intends to interfere with Syria's internal affairs, he said, emphasizing that the Syrians themselves recognize their welfare better than the strangers do.
Salehi said the meeting on Syria will continue on Monday to reach a final conclusion.
According to local media, some 200 political representatives from Syrian ethnic groups, minorities and opposition, along with representatives of the Syrian government and parliament, have gathered in Tehran for the meeting.