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Rockets and missiles fly; Israel prepares for possible Gaza ground operation

Rockets and missiles fly; Israel prepares for possible Gaza ground operation
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Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 6:19am

As rockets and missiles fly back and forth between Gaza and Israel, the Israeli military -- saying it doesn't expect the crisis to resolve itself soon -- is preparing for a ground incursion.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it targeted about 160 "terror sites" in Gaza in the early hours of Wednesday, after carrying out 150 airstrikes the day before. Militants fired more than 130 rockets at Israeli civilians, Israel said.

Palestinian officials report 26 people in Gaza were killed and more than 150 injured in Israeli airstrikes since Operation Protective Edge began Monday. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it provided medical services to 678 wounded people. And the Defense for Children International-Palestine said eight of the dead were children.

Recent days have brought a dramatic escalation in the conflict.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told CNN such an operation "might become necessary," and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said the security operation against the militant group Hamas "will probably not end within several days."

On Tuesday, the Israeli Cabinet gave the authorization for the military to call up 40,000 troops if needed, 10,000 more than were called up during Israel's offensive into Gaza in November of 2012. Only about 1,000 have been called up so far.

"I hope ... that it's not going to escalate into an all-out war," said Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian representative to the United States. "For the Israelis, they have to know that there's no military solution to this problem."

New threat

Rocket attacks into Israel are nothing new, but their reach has grown.

Warning sirens that blared in Tel Aviv, one of Israel's most populated areas, showed a threat Israel had warned of. The country said militants' rockets from Gaza are powerful enough to reach 3.5 million Israeli citizens.

The attacks sent U.S. embassy personnel in Tel Aviv scurrying to an underground shelter, U.S. officials told CNN. It was just a precautionary measure, they said.

Hamas is estimated to have 10,000 rockets of varying ranges, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said, including some that can reach as far north as Tel Aviv and beyond.

Israel confirmed that a rocket hit the city of Hadera, which is some 62 miles (100 kilometers) from Gaza.

Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian militant group, took responsibility for the rocket fired at Tel Aviv. In a statement, the group called it a "response to the ongoing Zionist aggression."

"The Palestinian people will defend themselves," said Osama Hamdan, a foreign policy spokesman for Hamas. If there is a "clear ceasefire, the Palestinians will deal with that."

Hamas later claimed responsibility for firing rockets on Jerusalem and Haifa. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said he finds the rocket attacks surprising.

"It is amazing to find terrorist groups that are willing to fire indiscriminate rockets targeted at civilians," he said.

Teens' deaths sparked new violence

Tensions in the region reached a fever pitch after three Israeli teens, including one with dual U.S. citizenship, were kidnapped last month on their way home from school in the West Bank. Their bodies were found last week.

Israel blames Hamas, but the group has denied any involvement.

"Hamas said it clearly ... We don't have information about what had happened," Hamdan told CNN's Michael Holmes.

Only days after the bodies of the Israeis were discovered, a Palestinian teen was abducted and then found dead within an hour in Jerusalem. Israel has arrested suspects and says there's "strong indication" it was a revenge killing.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was criticized by Palestinians when he condemned the Israeli teens' kidnappings, called on Israel on Tuesday to immediately stop its strikes, warning the operation would drag the region into instability.

Abbas said a truce was needed to "spare the innocent from mass destruction."

And a similar call for an end to hostilities came from the Arab League.

Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi asked for the U.N. Security Council to convene on the matter.

CNN's Diana Magnay reported from Jerusalem; and Ed Payne and Josh Levs reported from Atlanta. CNN's Kareem Khadder, Ben Wedeman, Tal Heinrich and Jason Hanna contributed to this report. 

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