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PM, Obama discuss 'de-escalating' Gaza conflict
By JPOST.COM STAFF AND YAAKOV LAPPIN
11/17/2012
PM expresses "deep appreciation" for US investment in Iron Dome; Obama speaks with Turkey's Erdogan about ending the violence.
 
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called US President Barack Obama on Friday to discuss options for "de-escalating" the situation in Israel and Gaza, 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," according to a statement on the call.

"The prime minister expressed his deep appreciation to the president and the American people for the United States' investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza," the statement said.

Obama also spoke on the phone with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss how the two countries could help bring an end to escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a White House official said on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called his American counterpart Leon Panetta to discuss the ramifications of the Gaza operation. Barak emphasized to Panetta that Israel is determined to reach the goals of the operation.

Israel's right to self defense likewise was reaffirmed Friday by US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who also called on countries with influence "to maximize the pressure we can bring to bear on Hamas to cease and desist," as the ongoing rocket fire "is not benefiting the cause of the Palestinian people and it’s certainly not benefiting the cause of regional stability."

Meanwhile, the IDF released statistics upon the conclusion of day three of Operation Pillar of Defense. According to the statement, the Israel Air Force hit 238 targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday. A total of 105 rockets struck Israel during the course of the day, the IDF said, while the Iron Dome missile defense system shot down an additional 99 rockets.

Earlier Friday evening Defense Minister Ehud Barak received Cabinet approval for the IDF's request to increase the maximum number of reservists it could enlist to 75,000 ahead of a possible Gaza ground operation.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, however, told Channel 10 that toppling Hamas is not on the agenda as a goal for Operation Pillar of Defense.

"We are definitely considering a ground operation, but toppling Hamas, I think that's something that the next government will have to decide," he said.

Liberman also told Channel 2 that the IDF will only stop its attacks against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip once Israel accomplishes its goals of stopping rocket fire and increasing deterrence.

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"Each time that Hamas fires [into Israel], there will be a harsher and harsher response," he added.


Debate over an incursion into Gaza comes after three days of constant rocket-fire from the Strip, which has reached as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time, and targeted Israeli strikes against terrorist leaders and weapons depots in Gaza.

On Friday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz issued draft orders to 16,000 out the 30,000 reservists the cabinet approved Thursday. Most of the reservists called up thus far serve in the IDF's Engineering Corps.

The engineering corps would play a vital part in any ground operation into the Gaza Strip, enabling armored vehicles to move across the border into Gaza. The IDF operation to root out terror in the coastal territory has consisted of air raids on terror targets thus far.

IDF: Tonight will not be calm in Gaza

The IDF assassinated two Hamas members in Gaza on Friday evening.

The first, Muhammad Abu Jalal, was a Hamas company commander in central Gaza's El Muazi area, and the second, Khaled Shaeer, operated anti-tank missiles.

Earlier, the IDF sent text messages to 12,000 Gazan civilians, warning them to stay away from Hamas members.

The IDF warned that its activities would continue into the night on Friday, warning Hamas to take cover.

"Terrorists in Gaza should hide. Tonight won't be calm in Gaza," IDF spokesman Yoav Mordechai said. "We're hitting hundreds of rocket launchers in waves of air strikes, including right now."

The IDF also revealed on Friday that it had taken out Hamas's nascent drone program.

The military recently focused its intelligence efforts on a group of Hamas terrorists who were developing and producing drones designed to strike fortified targets in Israel.

The terrorists were under the instruction of Iranian technical instructors, and the 'production team' carried test flights in Gaza of the drones.

The IAF struck the test flight sites in recent attacks.

Reuters contributed to this report
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