BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip — Fears of a possible Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip rose Thursday as the Israeli military issued thousands of warnings by telephone to residents of the coastal enclave's northeast corner, telling them to leave their border-area homes and stay away.
The instructions came as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers that a cease-fire with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that is the main target of a three-day-old Israeli military offensive in Gaza, was "not even on the agenda." Netanyahu instead vowed to increase airstrikes against Hamas, which controls Gaza, until it stops firing rockets into Israel, and he said in a nationally televised address that Israelis should expect "further stages later on."
An Israeli defense official, who spoke to the Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, said the military is envisioning a limited incursion, although other options are being considered.
Israeli jets continued their assault on Gaza on Thursday, striking 220 sites and bringing the Palestinian death toll in the operation to 87, according to the health ministry in Gaza. Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 190 rockets at Israel, the military said, sending Israelis in the Dead Sea region and as far away as Netanya, a coastal city north of Tel Aviv, running to bomb shelters. Four Hamas rockets were fired at Jerusalem on Thursday; two were intercepted and two landed in open areas.
Israeli officials and residents of the country's south, many of whom have spent hours in bomb shelters in recent days, pressed for tough measures against Hamas to stop the barrage of rocket fire. Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin suggested cutting off water and electricity to the besieged strip of 1.7 million people, according to Israeli media reports.
"We have long days of fighting ahead of us," Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Thursday.
As the hostilities continued Thursday, President Barack Obama called Netanyahu and "reiterated the United States' strong condemnation of continuing rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza, and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself against these attacks," according to a White House statement. Obama also expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and said all sides should do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians, the statement said.
There have been no deaths in Israel, where many Palestinian rockets have landed in open areas or been intercepted by the country's missile defense system. Israel's national emergency agency reported Thursday that 123 people had been injured since hostilities began, a number that included more than 100 who were treated for anxiety and shock.
The death toll in Gaza on Thursday included 22 children, 15 women and 12 elderly people, and more than 500 people were injured, according to the Gaza health ministry. It is not known how many of the dead in Gaza were militants. Hamas and another militant group, Islamic Jihad, have confirmed only the names of 10 operatives killed.
Israeli leaders blame Hamas for the high number of civilian deaths. Military leaders in Hamas live alongside their families, and the group hides its weapons in neighborhoods and launches rockets from back yards and agricultural fields.
In response to the mounting casualties in Gaza, the Egyptian government opened the Rafah land crossing between the strip and the Sinai Peninsula on Thursday to allow ambulances to leave. Some Gaza residents with Egyptian relatives and documents were also allowed to enter.
There were rising international calls Thursday for a cease-fire, including from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Speaking in China, Kerry said he had contacted Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as other leaders in the region, to discuss the possibility of a truce. An Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ended the last major Israeli military offensive on Gaza in late 2012.