The U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday an incursion by Israeli forces into the Gaza Strip could only deepen its death toll, cautioning against an escalation even as he defended the Jewish state's right to defend itself.
"Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory," Obama said in Bangkok yesterday at the start of a three-nation tour in Asia.
"If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that's preferable," he said. "It's not just preferable for the people of Gaza.
It's also preferable for Israelis, because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they're much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel was prepared to significantly expand its military operation in Gaza. Obama has been lobbying Netanyahu along with the leaders of Egypt and Turkey to try to halt the crisis - including stopping rocket strikes on Israel.
He said Israel was justly responding to "an ever-escalating number of missiles that were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders."
Obama said Palestinians will have no chance to pursue their own state and a lasting peace with Israel as long as rockets are fired into Israel.
The US president said he hoped for a clearer process over the next 48 hours.
Israeli troops continue amassing along Gaza border
Israeli ground troops and armored vehicles continued to build up along the border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, amid reports that Egypt-brokered truce talks have broken down.
Though the army has not confirmed that it will enter the enclave, signs of an incoming invasion of the strip loom in the horizon, as Israel's Channel 2 TV reported that talks for a ceasefire with Hamas in Gaza have failed.
Earlier in the day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is ready to talk about a ceasefire when Hamas stops launching rockets into its territory, according to Ynet News site.
"We don't see any partner for any political settlement," Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters on Sunday, neither denying nor confirming that the truce talks had failed.
"Regarding operational considerations we should be ready to deploy whatever is needed to reach peace and quiet. So far we tried to make it, to achieve it, by surgical airstrikes, but we should be ready to deploy more troops in different types of operations in order to reach this goal (peace)," Yaalon said, hinting at the possibility of a ground operation.
Yaalon also confirmed that Israel is broadening its offensive in Gaza.
"We are broadening the scope of targets, like Hamas government offices, the interior ministry compound, and so forth, but not broadening the use of different weapons," he told reporters.
During the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu said the army is prepared for a ground invasion of the tiny coastal enclave.
"We are exacting a heavy price from the Hamas and the other militant organization and the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is prepared for a significant expansion of its operation," Netanyahu said.
On Sunday, Operation Pillar of Defense, launched by Israel against Hamas in Gaza, entered its fifth day with more rocket barrages hitting the southern communities of Israel. Sirens sounded also in Tel Aviv for the fourth day in a row since Thursday, with rockets intercepted over Tel Aviv's sky by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.
According to the latest figures from the Israeli military, over 120 rockets have landed in Israel on Sunday, with 14 people wounded. More than 30 rockets from Gaza were intercepted on Sunday.
Since the beginning of the operation on Wednesday, over 980 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel, of which 287 have been intercepted.