Israel was massing its troops on the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion as air raid sirens blared in northern Israel.
Israelis as far north as Haifa were awakened in the middle of the night early Friday morning when air raid sirens wailed for two minutes signaling a possible rocket attack.
Hamas issued an announcement early Friday morning saying that it had fired a rocket on the northern Israeli city it called an R-160, Israel Radio’s Arab affairs correspondent Gal Berger reported. However, there was no immediate word that any rocket had fallen in Haifa or of any interceptions by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
If Palestinian terror groups were able to reach the city – where both Jews and Arabs live – it would mark the most distant strike north of the Gaza strip.
Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces continued to make preparations for a possible ground invasion.
According to unnamed sources quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 news, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said he supports a limited ground operation focused on destroying tunnels through which Hamas smuggles long-range rockets.
Israel on Tuesday launched Operation Protective Edge, aimed at ending the sustained rocket attack campaign against Israeli communities.
Ya’alon said Israel would “extract from it a heavy price” from Hamas.
A senior Hamas official presented a list of demands it wants Israel to meet before the group stops its attacks on Israeli communities.
Mahmoud A-Zahar told Hamas’ Al-Aqsa television that it wants Israel to end the blockade on Gaza and to release 56 Hamas militants who have been re-arrested after being released from prison in a mass 2011 prisoner release.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis Thursday night said the battle would continue, anticipating “a difficult, complex battle ahead of us.”
The Times of Israel reported that more than 350 rockets have been launched on Israel in the past three days and that 900 airstrikes were carried out on Gaza. One rocket was intercepted over Hadera, south of Haifa, 75 miles from Gaza early Friday morning, the English-language news site reported.
The White House issued a statement Thursday saying that President Barack Obama had spoken with Netanyahu and offered to help mediate a ceasefire.
“The president expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm,” the White House said.
The State Department took Hamas to task for targeting civilians.
“I would remind [who] is at fault here, and that is Hamas and the indiscriminate attacks that they have launched against Israel,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“While the Israelis have taken steps to try to prevent civilian casualties by warning – providing warning in advance, that is not what, of course, Hamas is doing, and they have continued their indiscriminate attacks against – including civilian areas in Israel,” she said at her Thursday press briefing.