JERUSALEM , July 8 (UPI) -- Israeli air strikes hit 50 sites in Gaza overnight in what it described Tuesday as an open-ended and escalating offensive.
The strikes against Hamas, the Palestinian military and political organization ruling Gaza, are part of "Operation Protective Edge," in which Israeli troops have been mobilized on the Gaza-Israel border for a possible ground invasion. The airstrikes against 50 targeted sites -- militants' homes, rocket launcher emplacements and other military infrastructure sites -- came after an Israeli military "preparation for escalation" notice and after nearly 300 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel from Hamas sites in the past several weeks, 80 alone on Monday, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) said.
The escalation comes in the aftermath of national rage over the murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, and the presumed retribution murder of a Palestinian teen, who an autopsy indicated was burned alive.
"They (Hamas forces) chose the direction of escalation, so the mission will go on as long as we feel it is necessary to carry it out. We don't expect it to be a short mission on our behalf," Israeli Army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
"We are entering into a long operation," a senior IDF source said. "We are only at the start. Patience is required. We are preparing further steps and a gradual expansion of our order of battle."
Lerner added the army would increase attacks on Gaza, and is organizing reservists for a possible ground invasion.