GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip • Hamas rocket squads aimed at Jerusalem for the first time Friday, along with commercial hub Tel Aviv, showing off their expanded reach as Israeli airstrikes pounded the Palestinian territory for a third day. Israel called up 16,000 reservists, moving a step closer to a possible ground offensive in the Palestinian territory.
Air raid sirens sounded in the two cities which — unlike population centers in Israel’s south — had not been exposed to rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza before the current round of cross-border fighting. No injuries were reported, but Hamas’ latest attempts to hit Israel’s heartland could push Israel closer to sending ground troops into Gaza.
Egypt president vows to stand by Gaza
Egypt’s Islamist president says his country will stand by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and demanded Israel stop its latest offensive on the Hamas-ruled territory.
Mohammed Morsi says Egypt “will not leave Gaza on its own” and warned the “aggressor to stop the bloodshed or face the wrath” of Egypt’s new leadership and institutions.
Morsi spoke on Friday at a mosque near his house on the outskirts of Cairo. The sermon was his harshest condemnation yet of the Israeli offensive.
Morsi said he dispatched his prime minister to Gaza to send a clear message that Egypt supports the people there and will not tolerate the killing of civilians.
Hamas is an offshoot of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt. The Brotherhood led protests across the country on Friday against Israel.
Over the past three days, Israel has relentlessly pounded suspected rocket launching sites and other Hamas targets in Gaza with scores of airstrikes, while Hamas has fired more than 450 rockets toward Israel. The overall death toll rose to 30 — 27 Palestinians and three Israelis.
The Islamic militant group was badly bruised during its last full-fledged confrontation with Israel four years ago that ended with an informal truce, although rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes on militant operations continued sporadically. The Islamic militant group appeared better prepared this time with a more powerful arsenal.
Just a few years ago, Palestinian rockets were limited to crude, homemade devices manufactured in Gaza. But in recent years, Hamas and other armed groups have smuggled in sophisticated, longer-range rockets from Iran and Libya, which has been flush with weapons since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted last year.
Most of the rockets do not have guided systems, limiting their accuracy, though Israeli officials believe the militants may have a small number of guided missiles that have not yet been deployed.
Hamas said the two rockets aimed at the two Israeli cities Friday were made in Gaza, a prototype the militants call M-75, and have a range of about 80 kilometers (50 miles).
The air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem after the start of the Jewish Sabbath in the holy city, claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as a capital and located about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Gaza. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in an open area southeast of the city.
Earlier Friday, Gaza militants fired toward Tel Aviv and an explosion was heard in the city, but no injuries were reported. Hamas had first targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday, an unprecedented achievement for the group.
"We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises," Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Hamas militant wing, said of the rockets aimed at Israel’s two main cities.
A senior Hamas official said that Egypt, which often mediates between Hamas and Israel, was working behind the scenes to arrange a truce.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter, said Hamas was demanding an end to the offensive, limits on Israeli ground activities along the border, a permanent halt in assassinations of Hamas leaders and an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
"These conditions must be honored and sponsored by a third party," he said. "We will stop all armed activities out of Gaza in return."
Israel is unlikely to accept some of the demands, particularly a permanent halt to military operations against Hamas.
An Israeli official refused to say whether Egypt or any other country was involved in cease-fire efforts but said Israel would not settle for anything less than a complete and longstanding halt to the rocket fire. "We’re not interested in a timeout that returns us to square one," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the matter with the press.
Hamas’ political rival in the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a televised speech Friday that he has urged the U.S. and European countries to pressure Israel to halt the offensive. Abbas also called for Palestinian unity.
Hamas wrested Gaza from Abbas in 2007, deepening a split the two sides have been unable to overcome.
Despite the Gaza fighting, Abbas said he was determined to seek U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem on Nov. 29. Such recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state would be a largely symbolic step, but Israel and the U.S. oppose the idea, saying it’s an attempt to bypass negotiations.
In Israel, military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said no decision has been made yet on a ground offensive but all options are on the table. Dozens of armored vehicles have been moved to Israel’s border with Gaza since fighting intensified Wednesday, following Israel’s assassination of the Hamas military chief.
She said 16,000 reserve soldiers were called up Friday, and the army could draft an additional 14,000 soldiers. She did not say where the reservists were being deployed.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Cabinet at a special meeting Friday night for authorization to activate additional soldiers.Next Page >
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