Israel briefly deployed troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early today as some 4,000 people fled southward from the northern part of the territory in the face of Israeli threats to step up attacks there. Neither Israel nor Palestinian militants show signs of agreeing to a cease-fire to end their weeklong conflict, despite calls by the UN Security Council and others that they lay down their arms. With Israel massing tanks and soldiers at Gaza's borders, some fear the latest Israeli threats could signal a wider ground offensive that would bring even heavier casualties than the 166 Palestinian deaths already registered.
"All our ground forces are ready," a senior Israeli military official said today. "We have been training for this. We will exploit our ability the moment a decision is made to do so." Early today, Israeli naval commandos launched a brief raid into northern Gaza to destroy what the military described as a rocket-launching site, an operation it said left four of its soldiers slightly wounded. The Israeli air force later dropped leaflets warning residents to evacuate their homes ahead of what Israel's military spokesman described as a "short and temporary" campaign against northern Gaza to begin soon. The area is home to at least 100,000 people. It was not clear whether the possible attack would be confined to stepped-up airstrikes or whether it might include a sizeable ground offensive—something that Israel has so far been reluctant to undertake. Click for more.