JERUSALEM – Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip will pay a "heavy price" if they continue to target Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Thursday, as the Israeli military wrapped up preparations for a possible invasion of the coastal territory.
In Cairo, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak urged Israel to show restraint in a meeting with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. She brushed aside the appeal, however, and insisted that Israel would respond to protect its citizens.
The talks came a day after Palestinian militants pummeled southern Israel from Gaza with more than 80 rockets and mortars, causing no injuries but generating widespread panic. Israeli Cabinet ministers approved a broad invasion of Gaza, defense officials told The Associated Press.
"We will not accept this situation," Barak warned. "Whoever harms the citizens and soldiers of Israel will pay a heavy price."
He did not elaborate. But defense officials, speaking on condition on anonymity because the information was classified, said the Israeli operation would likely begin with surgical airstrikes against rocket launchers and continue with a land invasion. Harsh weather conditions are hampering visibility and complicating air force missions, so the operation won't be launched until the skies clear, they added.
Twelve mortars were fired early Thursday, causing no injuries. One landed at Israel's passenger crossing with Gaza as a group of Christians were going through, en route to the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Day celebrations, the military said.
Israel has been reluctant to press ahead with a campaign liable to exact heavy casualties on both sides. Gaza militants operate in densely populated civilian areas, and past Israeli incursions have not halted the rocket barrages.