The fighting in Gaza intensified on Saturday, with Israel expanding its airstrike targets to include Palestinian government offices. In addition to some police and security buildings, the latest offensive leveled the four-story headquarters of Hamas’s Gaza prime minister, Ismael Haniyeh. A spokesman for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said they destroyed the offices because Hamas “makes no distinction between its terrorist military machine and the government structure.” He added, “We have seen Hamas consistently using so-called civilian facilities for the purposes of hiding their terrorist military machine, including weapons.”
The Israeli military said it had struck around 200 other targets overnight, which Hamas says killed seven of its members. (According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, a total of 40 Palestinians have died in the conflict so far, and 385 have been wounded.) Meanwhile, Hamas fired over 100 rockets at Israel, two of which were intended to hit Tel Aviv. However, the first of those landed “harmlessly, probably at sea” while the other was deflected midair by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, “eliciting cheers from relieved residents huddled in fear after air raid sirens sounded in the city,” according to the AP.
With the violence ongoing, an Egypt-led effort to broker a cease-fire continued. Top Hamas leaders (along with allies from Qatar and Turkey) traveled to Cairo for talks with with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. (The Arab League also held an emergency meeting.) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that he had spoken to President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday about the possibility of the four countries working together to help Israel and Hamas reach some kind of truce. “It would be good if we could work on it rapidly to solve the matter within 24 hours, because the death toll is mounting,” he said.
The United States’ deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Air Force One that Obama had spoken to Netanyahu daily since the fighting began, and that they both hoped to “deescalate” the situation. However, he said, “We believe Israel has a right to defend itself, and they’ll make their own decisions about the tactics they use in that regard.” Rhodes added that Israel had not yet asked the United States for military assistance, and that any choice by Israel to launch a ground war in Gaza would be the country’s own: “The Israelis are going to make decisions about their own military tactics and operations. What we want is the same thing the Israelis want, which is an end to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza.” As of Saturday, Israel had authorized a call-up of 75,000 reservists in anticipation of the possibility of an invasion.