GAZA City Jan 3 (AFP) -Israeli planes and ships pounded Gaza on Saturday as the assault on Hamas entered its second week, with the Islamists' leader promising a “black destiny” if ground troops are sent in.
Amid growing concern for the humanitarian condition in the densely-populated territory, the United States gave its close ally free rein to push on with a ground offensive, insisting that the key to a ceasefire is Israel's demand for Hamas to permanently halt rocket fire.
“I think any steps they are taking, whether it's from the air or on the ground or anything of that nature, are part and parcel of the same operation,”said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
“Those will be decisions made by the Israelis.”
Hamas's Syrian-based chief Khaled Meshaal told Israel that “if you commit the stupidity of launching a ground offensive then a black destiny awaits you.
“You will soon find out that Gaza is the wrath of God,” Meshaal said in pre-taped remarks as the death toll rose from bombing and concerns grew about the humanitarian situation in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.
President George W. Bush, meanwhile, urged all able parties to press Hamas to stop firing on Israel to facilitate a lasting ceasefire.
“The United States is leading diplomatic efforts to achieve a meaningful ceasefire that is fully respected,” Bush said in his weekly Saturday radio address, the text of which was released late on Friday.
“I urge all parties to pressure Hamas to turn away from terror, and to support legitimate Palestinian leaders working for peace.”Bush said Hamas was responsible for the latest violence and rejected a unilateral ceasefire that would allow Hamas to continue to fire on Israel.
“This recent outburst of violence was instigated by Hamas -- a Palestinian terrorist group supported by Iran and Syria that calls for Israel's destruction,” Bush said.
On the ground, Israeli tanks and troops stood ready along the 60 kilometre (37 mile) border with Gaza, waiting for the government's greenlight.
Warplanes and navy ships carried out 20 strikes against targets across the Gaza overnight on Saturday, hitting homes of senior Hamas figures and several of the group's coastal posts, the army said.