Israel briefly deployed ground troops inside the Gaza Strip for the first time early Sunday as its military warned northern Gaza residents to evacuate their homes, part of a widening offensive that has killed more than 160 Palestinians.
Neither Israel nor Palestinian militants show signs of agreeing to a cease-fire, despite calls by the United Nations Security Council and others to end the increasingly bloody six-day offensive. With Israel massing tanks and soldiers at Gaza's borders, some fear that could signal a wider ground offensive that would cause heavy casualties.
"We don't know when the operation will end," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting Sunday. "It might take a long time."
Early Sunday, Israeli troops launched a brief raid into northern Gaza to destroy what the military described as a rocket-launching site, an operation the military said left four soldiers slightly wounded.
The Israeli air force later dropped leaflets warning residents to evacuate their homes ahead of what Israel's military spokesman described as a "short and temporary" campaign against northern Gaza to begin sometime after 12 p.m. (0900 GMT). The area is home to at least 100,000 people.
It was not clear whether the possible attack would be confined to stepped-up airstrikes or whether it might include a sizeable ground offensive — something that Israel has so far been reluctant to undertake.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had appealed to U.N. Secretary-General Bank Ki-moon for "international protection" for the Palestinian people.
"The situation has become unbearable — hundreds of martyrs and thousands of wounded and huge destruction," Abbas said. Despite forming a government with Hamas' backing last month, Abbas' influence in Gaza is minimal.