GAZA CITY: Israel’s cabinet authorised the mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists late on Friday, preparing the ground for a possible Gaza invasion.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilisation level.
Political sources said they decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000.
The move did not necessarily mean all would be called into service.
US President Barack Obama spoke with Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Friday, the White House said.
In a further sign Netanyahu might be clearing the way for a ground operation, Israel’s armed forces announced that a highway leading to the territory and two roads bordering the enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians would be off-limits to civilian traffic.
Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area on Friday, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.
Netanyahu is favourite to win a January national election, but further rocket strikes against Tel Aviv, a free-wheeling city Israelis equate with New York, and Jerusalem could be political poison for the conservative leader.
“The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,” Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.
Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: “The Israelis should be aware of the grave results of such a raid, and they should bring their body bags.”
In a call with Netanyahu, Obama discussed options for “de-escalating” the situation, the White House said.
Obama “reiterated US support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives,” a statement on the call said.
Israel Radio’s military affairs correspondent said the army’s Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could drag on for seven weeks.
An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.
The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009, killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Thirteen Israelis died.