Israel bombed rocket launching sites, weapons depots and other locations in the Gaza Strip for a second day on Thursday, as rocket fire from the Palestinian territory continued unabated and the death toll on both sides of the border rose to at least 18, officials said.
The violence -- by far the most intense since Israel's invasion of Gaza nearly four years ago -- drew condemnation from countries around the globe, with the United States denouncing the Palestinian militant group Hamas for firing rockets on civilian targets in Israel, and Middle Eastern leaders focusing their ire on the Jewish state.
Speaking on Israeli television, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel's chief military spokesman, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "has given the chief of staff approval to widen the operation" as planned. "A very, very intensive night is expected in Gaza," he warned. "It will not be a quiet night for the terrorists in Gaza."
Mordechai said the Gaza militants' rocket batteries had been dealt "a heavy blow" but that they still had some "residual" capabilities.
Israeli television said Defense Minister Ehud Barak has given the army approval to call up as many as 30,000 reservists.
But there was no immediate indication that Israel is gearing up to launch a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi ordered his prime minister to lead a delegation to Gaza to show support for the Palestinians, Egyptian state television reported. "The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region," Morsi told his nation in a televised address.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, meanwhile, said there is "no justification" for the rocket attacks by Hamas, the Islamist organization that has governed Gaza since 2006. He called on those responsible to immediately stop the "cowardly acts."
Even as Egypt was denouncing the Gaza strike, Egyptian officials were broadening their search for allies in the push to obtain a cease-fire. Morsi called Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday evening to ask him to help lobby U.S. and Israeli officials, the Jordanian government confirmed. Jordan, a close U.S. ally, is one of only two Arab states with diplomatic ties to Israel.
Fifteen Palestinians -- eight of them civilians, according to news services -- have been killed by the Israeli airstrikes, which started Wednesday with the assassination of Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari.
Israel said the offensive was an attempt to halt rocket fire from inside Gaza, which had escalated last weekend. But the airstrikes instead triggered new waves of rocket launches, which rained down on towns and villages in southern Israel Wednesday night and Thursday.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post