- - Sunday, November 18, 2012

JERUSALEM — An Israeli rocket launched Sunday killed a senior Hamas leader in charge of the terrorist movement’s missile operations, as fighting between the Jewish state and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip entered its fifth day and foreign leaders scrambled to prevent the conflict from escalating.

President Obama reiterated U.S. support for Israel but urged a diplomatic solution to the violence, which flared up when Hamas started firing rockets at Israeli towns and cities over the past several months.

The Israeli army said it killed Yehia Bia, the Hamas commander in charge of missile operations, when a missile flattened a two-story house in a residential neighborhood of Gaza City as Israel expanded its targets to include the homes of wanted terrorists.

Gaza officials said the strike killed 11 civilians, including five women and four children.

Israeli missiles also hit two media centers in Gaza, wounding six Palestinian journalists Sunday and damaging the equipment of several foreign media outlets from Europe. The buildings were targeted because they housed the offices of Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV station and the pro-Islamist Al Quds TV of Lebanon.

In Jerusalem, political and military leaders debated expanding the operation with a ground invasion of Gaza, but agreed they would prefer to avoid sending troops into the Palestinian territory.

Israel also could lose some international support if it launches a ground operation, said British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

“A ground invasion is much more difficult for the international community to sympathize with or support, including the United Kingdom,” he said.

Israel confirmed that it sent a representative to Cairo, where Egyptian and other Islamic leaders were attempting to persuade Hamas delegates to accept a cease-fire.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported Saturday night that Hamas rejected the calls for a truce and asked its Arab allies instead to send them more rockets.

Meanwhile, Israel’s military chief of staff, Gen. Benny Gantz, told troops massing on Gaza’s border to prepare for house-to-house fighting if they have to enter the Gaza Strip to stop the missile attacks.

“Look back once at [the Israeli towns being rocketed], and then look only forward,” he said.

Israeli officers have said that an incursion would require a massive preliminary bombardment and involve heavy fighting with many casualties. In the incursion into Gaza four years ago, more than 1,000 Gazans, including several hundred civilians, were killed. Ten Israeli soldiers were killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone over the weekend with Mr. Obama and several European leaders, all of whom backed the Israeli air attack as a legitimate response to Hamas rocketing.

During a visit to Thailand on Sunday, Mr. Obama reiterated his support for Israel.

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