An Israeli soldier checks his weapon Thursday near Israel’s border with Gaza. Israel dramatically escalated its aerial assault in Gaza on Thursday, hitting hundreds of Hamas targets, while militants there fired more than 180 rockets into Israel, reaching new targets spread across a vast area of the country.

The escalation appeared to increase the likelihood of a ground invasion and prompted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to call urgently for a return to calm and a cease-fire.

“Today, we face the risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza, with the threat of a ground offensive still palpable — and preventable only if Hamas stops rocket firing,” he told an emergency meeting of the Security Council.

There were no signs that a cease-fire was imminent, and no signs that diplomats representing the antagonists were heeding Ban’s call for calm.

— New York Times News Service