Israel, Hamas Near War as Violence Escalates

Dozens of rocket attacks and airstrikes between the two sides threaten to push region into war.


Plumes of smoke rise over Gaza during an Israeli air strike.

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Israelis and Palestinians edged closer to the brink of war in the Gaza Strip Friday as Israel escalated its military offensive and Palestinians increased rocket attacks in a conflict that has sparked an international crisis.

Since Wednesday, Israel has bombarded the region with more than 150 air strikes and Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, including strikes near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the country's largest cities. The violence has killed at least 28 Palestinians and three Isrealis, according to Reuters, and continues despite a cease-fire brokered by Egypt's prime minister.

[PHOTOS: Israel Launches Air Strikes on Gaza]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the operation, roughly translated "Pillar of Defense," is not a declaration of war but retaliation against increasing attacks by Hamas, the Palestinian group which controls the Gaza Strip.

"I spoke to presidents from across the world, including President Obama – no-one doubts the justification of the operation. This is not the launch of a war but a justified defense of our civilians and the world stands with Israel," Netanyahu said in a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres. "Those who preach to us about morality should offer an alternative way to stop the rocket fire from Hamas. No country would agree for its children to live in that intolerable situation."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken with leaders in the United Nations and the U.S., but has not spoken with the leaders of Hamas. Abbas has also asked the chief of the Arab League to visit Gaza this weekend, presumably to discuss ways to stop the violence.

Obama has spoken with Netanyahu, Abbas, as well as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss international action, and has urged Egyptian Prime Minister Mohammad Morsi to moderate the escalating violence.

[READ: Palestinian Militants Target Jerusalem]

Congressional leaders voiced their support for Israel on Friday.

"The message from Congress is clear: We stand with Israel. We support Israel's right to self-defense. We condemn Hamas and other extremist groups — and their state sponsors — who seek to murder innocent Israelis and destroy the Jewish State," said Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Howard Berman of California, the chairwoman and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement that introduced a bill backing Israel's offensive.

The conflict has been increasingly visible on social networks, where Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces have exchanged threatening messages aimed at each other for the world to see. The online confrontation began when the official Twitter account of the Israeli Defense Forces posted a video of a targeted assassination of top Hamas leader Ahmed Jabri.

VIDEO: IDF Pinpoint Strike on Ahmed Jabri, Head of #Hamas Military Wing #Gaza #PillarOfDefense

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012

That and other threats related to the "Pillar of Defense" offensive prompted a response from the official account of Hamas' military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades.

The aggression on both sides of the conflict continues to be reflected on Twitter, where IDF has not stopped posting videos of airstrikes and both sides detailed the attacks and casualties inflicted.

Al Qassam: Assassination of the great leader Ahmed al Jabari is the beginning of liberation war and ominous harbinger on sons of Zion #Gaza

— Alqassam Brigades (@AlqassamBrigade) November 14, 2012

VIDEO - IDF targets underground rocket launchers in Gaza. See the secondary explosions? That means we hit explosives.

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 16, 2012

There are indications the conflict is escalating into full-scale war. Thursday Israel amassed 30,000 troops near the Gaza border, and the Israeli cabinet will soon vote on mobilizing an additional 75,000 reservists, according to Al-Jazeera. It has also closed the main roads into and out of the Gaza Strip near the troop build-up.