Ground invasion of Gaza by Israel more likely as rocket attacks continue

Hamas HQ hit on fourth day of Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

Speculation is growing that a ground invasion by Israel in Gaza is becoming increasingly likely. The BBC is reporting that Israel has put 75,000 reservists on stand-by, and deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon told CNN that an invasion could happen before the end of the weekend:

"We don't want to get into Gaza if we don't have to. But if they keep firing at us … a ground operation is still on the cards," he said. "If we see in the next 24 to 36 hours more rockets launched at us, I think that would be the trigger."

Watch his interview in full:

Israeli air strikes are continuing on the Gaza strip. Reuters reports that the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh - where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister - was hit, as was the house of a Hamas leader in Jabaliya, north of Gaza City.

Egypt's president, Mohammed Morsi, called the attacks on Gaza "a blatant aggression against humanity" and said that "Egypt will not leave Gaza on its own". President Obama has praised Egypt's efforts to "deescalate" the tensions in the region.

The hundreds of tunnels in the south of Gaza, which are used to smuggle food, fuel and weapons from Egypt, have also been targeted by Israeli air strikes, the Guardian reports. The Israeli military say that over 800 targets have been struck since the operation began (Associated Press). It's thought that about 500 rockets have been fired towards Israel.

At least 38 Palestinians and three Israelis have died since Israel killed Hamas's military commander on Wednesday.

A plume of smoke rises over Gaza during an Israeli air strike, as seen from Sderot. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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The Lib Dems' troubled start doesn't bode well for them

Rows over homosexuality and anti-Semitism are obscuring the party's anti-Brexit stance.

Tim Farron has broken his silence on the question of whether or not gay sex is a sin. (He doesn't.)

Frankly, this isn't the start to the general election campaign that the Liberal Democrats would have wanted. Time that they hoped would be spent talking about how their man was the only one standing up to Brexit has instead been devoted to what Farron thinks about homosexuality.

Now another row may be opening up, this time about anti-Semitism in the Liberal Democrats after David Ward, the controversial former MP who among other things once wrote that "the Jews" were "within a few years of liberation from the death camps...inflicting atrocities on Palestinians" has been re-selected as their candidate in Bradford East. That action, for many, makes a mockery of Farron's promise that his party would be a "warm home" for the community.

Politically, my hunch is that people will largely vote for the Liberal Democrats at this election because of who they're not: a Conservative party that has moved to the right on social issues and is gleefully implementing Brexit, a riven Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn, etc. But both rows have hobbled Farron's dream that his party would use this election.

More importantly, they've revealed something about the Liberal Democrats and their ability to cope under fire. There's a fierce debate ongoing about whether or not what Farron's beliefs should matter at all. However you come down on that subject, it's been well-known within the Liberal Democrats that there were questions around not only Farron's beliefs but his habit of going missing for votes concerning homosexuality and abortion. It was even an issue, albeit one not covered overmuch by the press, in the 2015 Liberal Democrat leadership election. The leadership really ought to have worked out a line that would hold long ago, just as David Cameron did in opposition over drugs. (Readers with long memories will remember that Cameron had a much more liberal outlook on drugs policy as an MP than he did after he became Conservative leader.)

It's still my expectation that the Liberal Democrats will have a very good set of local elections. At that point, expect the full force of the Conservative machine and their allies in the press to turn its fire on Farron and his party. We've had an early stress test of the Liberal Democrats' strength under fire. It doesn't bode well for what's to come.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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