Hamas rockets target Israeli cities
Israeli ministers were asked today 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 today, and the military said it had already called 16,000 reservists to active duty.
Israeli 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 Wednesday 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 on Thursday for the first time since Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired them during the 1991 Gulf War.
An air raid siren rang out today 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 Mr 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," Mr 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 yesterday. 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.
Israel had earlier halted its air attacks on militant targets in Gaza during the brief visit of Egyptian prime minister Hesham Kandil. But Hamas security claimed three airstrikes hit the territory during that period.
Militants, meanwhile, fired off more than 60 rockets after Mr Kandil arrived in Gaza.
He toured Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, accompanied by the territory’s prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who was making his first public appearance since Israel’s offensive began on Wednesday.
In one chaotic moment, a man rushed toward the two leaders, shouting as he held up the body of a four-year-old boy. The two men cradled the lifeless boy who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli airstrike — a claim Israel denied.
Fighting to hold back tears, Mr Kandil told reporters that the Israeli operation must end.
“What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy ... whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,” he said.
Israel vociferously denied carrying out any form of attack in the area since the previous night. The pace of cross-border fighting quickly resumed after the Egyptian leader’s departure.