Hamas and the residents of Gaza closely followed reports of IDF forces assembling in and around the Strip ahead of a possible large-scale ground operation.
An Islamist group source confirmed that the organization was gearing up for battle. "The Israelis will flounder in Gaza as they did in Lebanon and at the end of the process they will once again be defeated and leave," he told Ynet on Friday.
"We will not play into Israel's hands. If and when the operation is launched, we will combat it with no more than 20 percent of our manpower. The remaining 80 percent will wait for the Israelis inside Palestinian territory to fight under the conditions that we are familiar with and to show that are forces are still there – in case Israel is thinking of bringing in the leadership it supports, such as (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas," he said.
According to the official, Israeli forces are assembling mainly near the former Gush Katif settlement bloc and around Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. In certain areas Israeli forces have entered Palestinian territory, he added.
Palestinian sources told Ynet that while the residents of Gaza are not panicking yet, they are aware of the possibility of an Israeli raid should the aerial strikes fail to contain the rocket attacks.
Hamas called on Palestinians and Muslims all over the world to hold protests against Israel's aerial strikes in Gaza immediately following the Friday prayer sessions.
Meanwhile it was reported that Egyptian intelligence chief Omer Suleiman cancelled his visit to Israel next week due to the escalation in the south. He was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. It is not yet clear whether he will arrive at a later date.
Suleiman was expected to bring with him information about potential negotiations with the Palestinians.