January 1, 2009
In a muddy field overlooking the smoke-blackened Gaza Strip skyline on Tuesday, young soldiers from an Israeli tank unit linked arms with euphoric civilians and joined them in the hora, a circular dance, in anticipation of a possible ground invasion of the Palestinian territory.
Far overhead, a pair of Israeli Apache helicopters fired on a target inside Gaza, unleashed diversionary flares and disappeared to the north. Elsewhere in the autonomous Palestinian region, Israeli jets, helicopters and ships pummeled the area with new strikes against dozens of targets.
Hour after hour, Israeli jets, helicopters and ships pummeled the region with new strikes against dozens of targets as diplomats took the first tentative steps to head off a ground offensive.
Four days into the Israeli military campaign, the death toll among Palestinians topped 370, including at least 90 civilians, according to U.N. personnel and Palestinian human rights workers.
Palestinian rocket attacks have killed four people on the Israeli side since the offensive began Saturday, and Israel says its military operation won’t end until the rockets stop crashing into Israeli cities.
Gaza militants warned of dire consequences should Israeli leaders launch a new, more dangerous phase of the offensive to destabilize the militant Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and end the sporadic rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza.