Israel has warned it could broaden a Gaza ground assault aimed at smashing Hamas’s network of cross-border tunnels, as it intensified attacks that have killed more than 260 Palestinians.
Diplomats stepped up efforts to halt 11 days of bloodshed in and around the battered Gaza strip while Pope Francis demanded an immediate ceasefire in a phone call with Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmud Abbas.
And Mr Abbas reached out for French help to lobby Hamas allies Qatar and Turkey to pressure the Islamists into accepting a truce during talks in Cairo with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
In the face of Israel’s land, sea and air offensive that has sent terrified civilians running for cover, the Islamist movement Hamas remained defiant and warned the Jewish state it would “drown in the swamp of Gaza”.
As Gaza residents spoke of a night of terror, with fierce gunbattles in the south and all-night shelling in the north, Mr Netanyahu warned the operation could yet be widened, amid growing international calls to avoid harm to civilians.
“My instructions and those of the defence minister to the military … is to prepare for the possibility of a significant broadening of the ground activity,” he told ministers in Tel Aviv.
Immediately afterwards, he convened his security cabinet to discuss plans for a possible expansion of the campaign, which began on July 8 with the aim of stamping out cross-border rocket fire.
Israel approved the call-up of another 18,000 reservists, taking the total number approved to 65,000, the army said.