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JERUSALEM — The Israeli government on Sunday admitted it had become the victim of a mass cyber-warfare campaign with millions of attempts to hack state websites since the start of its Gaza offensive four days ago.
Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the government was now waging war on "a second front -- of cyber attacks against Israel."
Steinitz said in the past four days, Israel had "deflected 44 million cyber attacks on government websites. All the attacks were thwarted except for one, which targeted a specific website that was down for six or seven minutes."
Hamas is linking a truce deal to a complete lifting of the border blockade on Gaza imposed since Islamists seized the territory by force. Hamas also seeks Israeli guarantees to halt targeted killings of its leaders and military commanders. Israeli officials reject such demands. They say they are not interested in a "timeout," and
want firm guarantees that the rocket fire will finally end. Past ceasefires have been short lived.
As the offensive moved forward, Israel found itself at a crossroads — on the cusp of launching a ground offensive into Gaza to strike an even tougher blow against Hamas, or pursuing Egyptian-led truce efforts.
"The Israeli military is prepared to significantly expand the operation," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.
At the same time, Gaza militants continued their barrage of rocket fire, firing more than two dozen at Israel on Sunday, including a longer-distance projectile that targeted Tel Aviv for a fourth straight day. One rocket damaged a home in the southern city of Ashkelon, punching a hole in the ceiling. Israel's "Iron Dome" rocket-defense system shot down seven rockets, including the one aimed at Tel Aviv, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said. Eight Israelis were wounded by shrapnel Sunday, one of them moderately.
Expanding targets to strike the homes of suspected commanders appeared to mark a new and risky phase of the operation, given the likelihood of civilian casualties in the densely populated territory of 1.5 million Palestinians.
New strikes on Sunday leveled homes in Gaza, burying residents under the rubble as rescuers frantically dug for survivors. In all, 57 Palestinians have been killed, including 24 civilians, and more than 400 civilians have been wounded, medics say.
Israel launched the operation last Wednesday by assassinating Hamas' military chief and carrying out dozens of airstrikes on rocket launchers and weapons storage sites in response to mounting rocket attacks. Over the weekend, the operation began to target Hamas government installations as well, including the offices of its prime minister.