JERUSALEM (AFP) – The Israeli cabinet on Friday night gave its green light for the recruitment of up to 75,000 reservists, Channel 2 television said, amid signs that Israel was gearing up for a ground offensive in Gaza.
The decision was taken in a phone vote which was carried out as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv with his inner circle, the Forum of Nine, the channel reported.
In practice, it means that up to 75,000 reserve soldiers can be drafted into action by the military at any point, as Israel appeared set to expand its relentless air campaign against Gaza militants.
As darkness fell, the Hamas-run enclave hunkered down for a third night of Israeli bombardment which began on Wednesday with an air strike which killed a top Hamas commander, unleashing a new and deadly round of bloody mayhem.
And the Israeli army moved to seal off roads around Gaza as AFP correspondents reported a growing build-up of military hardware and reserve forces along the Gaza border.
“Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser has started to conduct a phone vote among government ministers for approval to recruit 75,000 reserve soldiers,” the cabinet secretary wrote on his official Facebook page as Netanyahu began three hours of talks with his inner circle.
As the violence spiralled on Friday with a rocket hitting the sea off Tel Aviv and another landing in the West Bank near Jerusalem, Israel geared up for an expansion of its campaign, sending call-up papers to 16,000 reservists.
A day earlier, Defence Minister Ehud Barak had approved the call-up of 30,000 reserve soldiers, but on Friday, the defence ministry said he had decided to further expand the quota.
“Today, Defence Minister Ehud Barak authorised the IDF to expand its quota of reservists beyond the originally allocated amount,” the ministry said, and a spokesman confirmed he was looking to increase the number beyond 30,000.
Such a move has to be approved by Israel’s 14-member security cabinet.
“We are preparing all the military options, including the possibility that forces will be ready to enter Gaza in the event that the firing doesn’t stop,” warned senior cabinet minister Moshe Yaalon late on Thursday.
“Whoever continues attacking us, his blood will be on his own head.”
On Friday evening, the military said it had sealed off all the main roads around the Gaza Strip, declaring the area to be a closed military zone.
“There is a closed military zone in the area,” a spokesman told AFP, saying that route 232, route 10 and part of route 4 had all been sealed off.
“These are the main routes around the Gaza Strip and they have been closed to traffic,” he confirmed.