Gaza rockets reach Tel Aviv for first time
Israel has continued pounding targets across Gaza, but militants managed to maintain steady rocket fire into Israel, inflicting Israeli fatalities and reaching Tel Aviv for the first time with a projectile fired from Gaza.
The two rockets that reached the Tel Aviv area caused widespread panic as sirens wailed across Israel’s largest city and residents raced for cover. The projectiles exploded mid-air or possibly landed in the Mediterranean, and caused no injuries or damage, but marked a major propaganda victory for the militants in Gaza.
The military wing of Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv attack, claiming it fired Fajr-5 missiles at the coastal city.
A few hours before the incident , another rocket exploded in Rishon LeZion, only 12km south of Tel Aviv. Israel’s priority during the early stages of operation Pillar of Defence, which began on Wednesday with the assassination of the Hamas military chief in Gaza, was to destroy the long-range Iranian-manufactured Fajr rockets.
Israeli military chiefs boasted that they had managed to locate and destroy most of them, hinting that only a handful remained.
Three Israelis killed
However, the attacks on Tel Aviv, which is 65km from Gaza, and on Rishon LeZion, have put huge swathes of central Israel within militant rocket range.
Earlier in the day three Israeli civilians were killed when a rocket slammed into an apartment block in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.
The victims heard the red alert warning siren but didn’t have time to reach the public bomb shelter. Many buildings, particularly older structures, lack adequate shelters, and only buildings constructed in the last decade have a secure room in every apartment.
Israel continued to hit targets in Gaza throughout the day, but in contrast to the Gaza war in 2008-9, when hundreds of fatalities occurred in the first few days, this time the army is focusing on pinpoint “surgical” strikes against militants, rocket launchers and storage sites.
At least 15 Palestinians have been killed and some 200 wounded. Despite the Israeli barrage, the militants have launched some 300 projectiles into Israel.
The military said its air campaign had hit 230 targets across Gaza, and its “Iron Dome” rocket defence system had intercepted some 90 incoming rockets.
Thousands poured onto the streets of Gaza city for the funeral of Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military commander assassinated by Israel on Wednesday. Conspicuous by their absence were Hamas military and political leaders, who remain in hiding.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the group had adopted “new rules of engagement” with the Israeli defence forces. He called on Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who yesterday cut short a trip to Europe, to release Hamas prisoners in the West Bank in Palestinian Authority custody so that they can carry out terrorist attacks against Israel.
The Israeli army has asked the government for permission to call up 30,000 reservists.
As Israel continued with threats to launch a ground offensive, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said future developments depended on Hamas.
“In the past 24 hours Israel has made it clear that it will not tolerate rocket and missile attacks on its civilians. I hope that Hamas and the other terror organisations in Gaza got the message. If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.”
Israel remains reluctant to order a ground offensive with all the risks such an escalation would entail.