"ISRAELI aircraft pummelled the rocket arsenals of Gaza militants on Friday and signaled a ground invasion might be growing near as troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers massed near Israel's southern border with the Palestinian territory. Fighting between the two sides escalated sharply with a first-ever militant attack on the Tel Aviv area, menacing Israel's heartland.
"No casualties were reported, but three people died in the country's rocket-scarred south when a projectile slammed into an apartment building.
"The death toll in the densely populated Palestinian territory climbed to 19, including five children according to Palestinian health officials, as waves of Israeli fighter planes and drones sent missiles hurtling down on suspected weapons stores and rocket-launching sites."
""Israel and Hamas had largely observed an informal truce since Israel's devastating incursion into Gaza four years ago, but rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes on militant operations didn't halt entirely.
"Troops massing on the border.
"At least 12 trucks were seen transporting tanks and armored personnel carriers toward Gaza late Thursday, and buses carrying soldiers headed toward the border area.
"Israeli TV stations said a Gaza operation was expected on Friday, though military officials said no decision had been made.
""We will continue the attacks and we will increase the attacks, and I believe we will obtain our objectives," said Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief.
"An Israeli ground offensive could be costly to both sides. In the last Gaza war, Israel devastated large areas of the territory, setting back Hamas' fighting capabilities but also paying the price of increasing diplomatic isolation because of a civilian death toll numbering in the hundreds."
""The firing towards Gush Dan and the extent of the general (rocket) fire toward Israel is an escalation,'' [Israel's Defence Minister Ehud] Barak said in a statement.
""This escalation will have a price that the other side will have to pay,'' he warned after approving a military request for the call-up of 30,000 reservists."
"Senior cabinet minister Moshe Yaalon warned on his official Twitter account that Israel was considering all options, "including the possibility that forces will be ready to enter Gaza in the event that the firing doesn't stop."
"Whoever continues attacking us, his blood will be on his own head.''Images shown on Israel's Channel 1 television showed people lying on the ground outside the defence ministry in central Tel Aviv, their hands over their heads as the sirens wailed.""
"But Gaza's ruling Hamas movement remained defiant, ruling out talk of a truce even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned he was ready to "significantly expand'' the campaign, codenamed Operation Pillar of Defence.
"In the past 24 hours, Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate rocket and missile attacks on its civilians. I hope that Hamas and the other terror organisations in Gaza got the message,'' he said after three Israelis were killed and 19 wounded as rockets pounded the south of the country.
""If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.''"
"The assassination of Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari was followed by a wave of Israeli airs strikes on more than 100 militant targets [Thursday]..."
"US wants pressure put on Hamas to stop attacks.
"The United States has called on Egypt, Turkey and European powers to press Hamas to end bloodshed in Gaza, putting the onus on the Islamist movement to end rocket attacks on Israel.
"The White House on Thursday said it was in close contact with Israel about its military campaign into the Hamas-controlled territory, in a conflict that officials said has killed 16 Palestinians and three Israelis.
""We've also urged those who have a degree of influence with Hamas such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,'' deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.
""Our concern is, obviously, that Israel must be secure from these types of attacks and that, also, as this situation continues to unfold, it's only going to pose a greater threat to civilians and risk continued conflict in the region.''
"The United States, Israel's closest ally, has backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for Hamas to put an end to rocket attacks into Israel in response to the military campaign."
Finish Reading "Three Israelis killed as Hamas rockets rain down while 19 die in Gaza attacks," at news.com.au, by AP, News Limited Network, November 16, 2012, 5:59 PM.