As fears of an Israeli ground assault grew among Gaza residents on Thursday, Israel revealed it has beefed up its forces by calling about 30,000 reservists to their units.
“We are utilizing that force to enable us to create a substantial force around Gaza, that if it is required, we’ll be able to mobilize as soon as possible,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
The Israeli Cabinet has authorized the military to call up 40,000 troops if needed. That is 10,000 more than were called up during Israel’s offensive into Gaza in November 2012.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said units have been deployed.
“We’re ready to go, if we need to go,” he told Blitzer.
Regev said Israel didn’t want a situation where Hamas was given a “timeout” where it could regroup before restarting its attacks.
The mood is grim in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 91 Palestinians, including women and children, and injured more than 620 since they began Monday, Palestinian officials said. They said 23 people died in strikes Thursday and four more people succumbed to their injuries.
Throughout Gaza, people are expecting an Israeli ground incursion. Many people have nowhere to flee and there are no bomb shelters.
“I can’t leave. I have nowhere to go. Better to stay at home, inside and be safe,” one resident of the town of Bait Hanoun in northern Gaza told CNN.
Most residents live in homes without safe rooms and walls made of breeze block, through which a bullet could pass through like paper.
At Gaza’s border with Egypt, some Egyptians and foreigners were being told they could leave Gaza.
“I’ve been waiting three days in (nearby) Rafah since the air raids began,” a Canadian-Palestinian told CNN. “I want to leave. The situation is dangerous here, but the Egyptians didn’t open the border until today, and I’ve been waiting here for three hours. I need to leave.”
An ambulance driver told CNN that some people who had been wounded had also been allowed to leave, but only a few had been able to do so.
‘Prepared for all options’
There have been hints for days from some Israeli officials to the possibility of a ground offensive in Gaza, but there were questions about the government’s appetite for such a conflict.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier Thursday that the daylong aerial offensive would be expanded and continue “until the firing at our communities stops and quiet is restored.”
He didn’t specify what the expansion of the current operation would entail, saying that Israel’s military “is prepared for all possibilities.”
No Israelis have been killed so far by rockets fired toward southern Israel by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups in Gaza.
A CNN crew in Gaza was setting up a live shot when four rockets streaked overhead in the direction of Israel. Some in the crowd cheered. When told there were air raid sirens going off in Israel, there were more cheers.
Two Israeli soldiers were wounded Thursday in a rocket attack, the military said. One of the soldiers is moderately wounded and the other is lightly wounded, the military said.
Four rockets were fired over Jerusalem, Israel’s military said, but two were intercepted and the others hit open areas.
Hope for a cease-fire appeared dim even as world leaders called for the two sides to stop the violence.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu spoke by phone.
“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 cease-fire agreement,” the White House said in a written statement.
The President also condemned rocket attacks from Gaza and said the United States reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.