(MENAFN - Arab News) GAZA CITY: Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza relentlessly on Thursday causing a growing number of civilian casualties.
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has accused Israel of committing 'genocide" in Gaza but Israel showed no sign of letting up.
And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed even tougher action against Hamas despite growing international calls for a cease-fire in the worst confrontation in and around Gaza since 2012.
So far there have been no Israel deaths but Hamas has kept up a steady barrage of rocket fire on cities in central Israel sending people fleeing for cover as air raid sirens rang out in cities as far away as Jerusalem Tel Aviv and even Haifa.
And Israel has confirmed preparations are under way for a possible ground attack with tanks seen massing along the border and Netanyahu facing mounting pressure from hard-liners within his coalition to put boots back on the ground in the territory from which Israel pulled all troops and settlers in 2005.
A senior official told reporters on Thursday Israel's goal was to get Hamas to stop 'the launching of rockets and carrying out terror attacks against Israelis."
'If we can achieve our goals without a ground operation we would prefer it this way" said the ministry of strategic affairs director general Yossi Kuperwasser.
'Gaza is on a knife edge. The deteriorating situation is leading to a downward spiral which could quickly get beyond anyone's control" UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned.
'The risk of violence expanding further still is real. Gaza and the region as a whole cannot afford anther full-blown war" he said.
Ban spoke with Netanyahu urging him to exercise maximum restraint although he described the Gaza rocket attacks as 'unacceptable and must stop."
As the number of victims in Gaza rose Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing with hospitals in north Sinai placed on standby to receive the wounded Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.
One missile attack on Khan Yunis struck two homes killing four women and four children while another airstrike killed a five-year-old boy in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya emergency services spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra told AFP.
Analysts said Hamas and its backers had a clear aim for their military build-up: to drag Israel into a ground war hoping to inflict a heavy number of casualties.
A cease-fire with Hamas militants in Gaza is 'not even on the agenda" Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu told a parliamentary committee Thursday an Israeli newspaper reported.
'I am not talking to anybody about a cease-fire right now" the website of Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as telling the Knesset's foreign affairs and defense committee. 'It's not even on the agenda."
Israel's Iron Dome interceptor has shot down some 90 percent of Palestinian rockets it engaged during this week's surge of Gaza fighting up from the 85 percent rate in the previous mini-war of 2012 Israeli and US officials said on Thursday.
Seven batteries of the system made by the state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and partly funded by Washington have been rotated around Israel to tackle unprecedented long-range salvoes by Hamas.