Israeli soldiers search for a rocket after it was fired
from Gaza and landed in the West Bank. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Israeli ministers have been asked to endorse the call-up
of up to 75,000 reservists after Palestinian militants nearly
hit Jerusalem with a rocket for the first time in decades and
fired at Tel Aviv for a second day.
The rocket attacks were a challenge to Israel's Gaza
offensive and came just hours after Egypt's prime minister,
denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited
the enclave and said Cairo was prepared to mediate.
Israel's armed forces announced that a highway leading to the
Gaza Strip and two roads bordering the enclave would be
off-limits to civilian traffic until further notice.
Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the border area,
and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists
to active duty.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior cabinet
ministers in Tel Aviv after the rockets struck to decide on
widening the Gaza campaign.
Political sources said ministers were asked to approve the
mobilisation of up to 75,000 reservists, in what could be
preparation for a possible ground operation.
No decision was immediately announced and some commentators
speculated in the Israeli media the move could be
psychological warfare against Gaza's Hamas rulers. A quota of
30,000 reservists had been set earlier.
Israel began bombing Gaza on Thursday with an attack that
killed the Hamas military chief. It says its campaign is in
response to Hamas missiles fired on its territory. Hamas
stepped up rocket attacks in response.
Israeli police said a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the
Jerusalem area, outside the city, today.
It was the first Palestinian rocket since 1970 to reach the
vicinity of the holy city, which Israel claims as its
capital, and was likely to spur an escalation in its
three-day old air war against militants in Gaza.
Rockets nearly hit Tel Aviv yesterday for the first time
since Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired them during the 1991 Gulf
War. An air raid siren rang out on Friday when the commercial
centre was targeted again. Motorists crouched next to cars,
many with their hands protecting their heads, while
pedestrians scurried for cover in building stairwells.
The Jerusalem and Tel Aviv strikes have so far caused no
casualties or damage, but could be political poison for
Netanyahu, a conservative favoured to win re-election in
January on the strength of his ability to guarantee security.
"The Israel Defence Forces will continue to hit Hamas hard
and are prepared to broaden the action inside Gaza,"
Netanyahu said before the rocket attacks on the two cities.
Asked about Israel massing forces for a possible Gaza
invasion, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said: "The Israelis
should be aware of the grave results of such a raid and they
should bring their body bags."
Officials in Gaza said 28 Palestinians had been killed in the
enclave since Israel began the air offensive with the
declared aim of stemming surges of rocket strikes that have
disrupted life in southern Israeli towns.
The Palestinian dead include 12 militants and 16 civilians,
among them eight children and a pregnant woman. Three
Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday. A Hamas source
said the Israeli air force launched an attack on the house of
Hamas's commander for southern Gaza which resulted in the
death of two civilians, one a child.
A solidarity visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham
Kandil, whose Islamist government is allied with Hamas but
also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, had appeared
to open a tiny window to emergency peace diplomacy.
Kandil said: "Egypt will spare no effort ... to stop the
aggression and to achieve a truce."
But a three-hour truce that Israel declared for the duration
of Kandil's visit never took hold. Israel said 66 rockets
launched from the Gaza Strip hit its territory on Friday and
a further 99 were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile
Israel denied Palestinian assertions that its aircraft struck
while Kandil was in the enclave.
Israel Radio's military affairs correspondent said the army's
Homefront Command had told municipal officials to make civil
defence preparations for the possibility that fighting could
drag on for seven weeks. An Israeli military spokeswoman
declined to comment on the report.
The Gaza conflagration has stoked the flames of a Middle East
already ablaze with two years of Arab revolution and a civil
war in Syria that threatens to leap across borders.
It is the biggest test yet for Egypt's new President Mohamed
Mursi, a veteran Islamist politician from the Muslim
Brotherhood who was elected this year after last year's
protests ousted military autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood are spiritual mentors of Hamas,
yet Mursi has also pledged to respect Cairo's 1979 peace
treaty with Israel, seen in the West as the cornerstone of
regional security. Egypt and Israel both receive billions of
dollars in U.S. military aid to underwrite their treaty.
Mursi has vocally denounced the Israeli military action while
promoting Egypt as a mediator, a mission that his prime
minister's visit was intended to further.
A Palestinian official close to Egypt's mediators told
Reuters Kandil's visit "was the beginning of a process to
explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is early to
speak of any details or of how things will evolve".
Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The
last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz
and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-2009,
killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Thirteen Israelis died.
Tunisia's foreign minister was due to visit Gaza on Saturday
"to provide all political support for Gaza" the spokesman for
the Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, said in a statement.
The United States asked countries that have contact with
Hamas to urge the Islamist movement to stop its rocket
Hamas refuses to recognise Israel's right to exist. By
contrast, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in
the nearby West Bank, does recognise Israel, but peace talks
between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.
Abbas's supporters say they will push ahead with a plan to
have Palestine declared an "observer state" rather than a
mere "entity" at the United Nations later this month.