The army is "ready to go all the way," Israel's Air Force chief said Monday night, as operation "Cast Lead" entered its fourth day. IDF officials are waiting for the green light to embark on a ground incursion, which may be unavoidable in light of the latest escalation in fighting.
The Air Force attacked Palestinian targets across the Gaza Strip overnight, with eyewitnesses reporting that fighter jets dropped at least 16 bombs on Hamas government buildings and security compounds, destroying them completely. At least 10 people were reportedly killed in the strikes and more than 40 were injured.
Earlier, an Israeli woman and an IDF career officer were killed in Palestinian rocket and mortar strikes on southern Israel. Meanwhile, the Palestinian death toll in the IDF operation has topped 350.
Speaking at a meeting with top officials Monday night, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert instructed participants to refrain from talking about the possibility of a Gaza ceasefire at this time.
"We no longer talk about an exit policy, but rather, we are working in order to secure the Gaza operation's objectives," he said. "As long as the fire continues, the Israeli operation will be expanded."
'Complete shock for Hamas'Large infantry and armored forces are already deployed near Gaza and await the order to march in.
"We have an orderly plan, with objectives and targets, and it will ultimately secure its goals," a military official said. The winter weather in the region may postpone the IDF's plans, but military officials say the army has solutions even if weather conditions remain unstable.
Ten months have passed since IDF ground forces operated deep within Palestinian territory in the Gaza Strip. The last large-scale ground operation was "Warm Winter," which was followed by several smaller operations, before a relative lull went into effect. However, military officials hinted that the upcoming ground operation may include a deep and broad incursion.
Addressing pilots at a southern military base Monday evening, Air Force Chief Ido Nehushtan said the army must not be complacent at this time.
"Hamas is still able to fire rockets at the State of Israel, and our goal is to prevent it," he said. "Hamas must understand that we are ready to go all the way. Southern residents feel that we are doing something for them."
During his address, Major-General Nehushtan characterized Israel's initial aerial assault as a "complete shock for Hamas" and noted that the element of surprise was crucial to its success. "Hamas paid a very heavy price…our intelligence information was accurate, and their casualty figures are high."
AP and AFP contributed to the report