Israel ready to invade Gaza Strip if cease-fire efforts fail

Bloomberg reports: Israeli ground forces are poised to invade the Gaza Strip for the first time in almost four years amid efforts by Egypt and Turkey to help end exchanges of fire that have killed 96 Palestinians and three Israelis.

The decision whether to expand the Gaza operation or reach a cease-fire agreement “is rapidly approaching, and is a matter of hours, not even days,” Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said in an interview today on Army Radio.

Air-raid sirens sounded twice in Tel Aviv yesterday as four rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. A rocket was fired at Jerusalem on Nov. 16, the first such attack in decades. At least 1,100 missiles, rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel since Nov. 14, according to the Israel Defense Forces. About 15,000 have been launched from Gaza in the past 11 years.

The escalating conflict between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip, threatens a region still unbalanced after a wave of popular uprisings last year. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

Hamas is “mildly optimistic” about efforts to broker a cease-fire with Israel, Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said today in an interview. “They think negotiations are going seriously, but it’s difficult to predict when that will come to fruition,” he said, speaking in the north Sinai town of el-Arish.

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