Israeli campaign set to escalate after 75,000 reservists drafted


Israel has approved the drafting of 75,000 reservists ahead of what diplomatic source said was likely to be a “significant escalation”. Security sources estimated that the military campaign would last for at least another four days as the incessant strikes from the air, sea and tanks have failed to end the militant rocket fire.

Militants fired more than 150 rockets into Israel yesterday. Large numbers of infantry and mechanised units took up positions around the Gaza Strip, but a ground offensive is still considered a last option, if the militant groups fail to agree to a lasting ceasefire that will restore quiet to southern Israel.

Meeting to update president Shimon Peres on latest developments, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed there would be no let-up in the military offensive.

“We are going to continue hitting Hamas hard and we will continue to strike hard at the missiles targeted at central and southern Israel,” he said. “Hamas deliberately targets our children, and they deliberately place their rockets next to their children.”

On Wednesday, Tel Aviv residents were taken by surprise when sirens sounded, but an attack on Israel’s biggest city had always been considered a distinct possibility.

Jerusalem, the site of Islam’s third holiest site – the Al Aqsa mosque – and a large Palestinian population, was never considered a possible target for the notoriously inaccurate militant projectiles.

Knesset targeted

Hamas claimed responsibility for firing two rockets at Israel’s capital, saying in a statement that it had targeted the Knesset. The Islamist group also promised that it had more “surprises” in store.

The projectiles actually landed close to a West Bank Palestinian village, a few kilometres from Jerusalem, but caused no damage. This marked the first time since 1970 that a rocket has been fired at Jerusalem.

Earlier, another rocket landed in the Tel Aviv area and throughout the day militants kept up rocket fire at Israeli population centres in the south .

The effect of the rocket attacks was clearly visible in Tel Aviv. Many parents kept their children out of kindergartens. Restaurants and coffee shops, usually packed on Fridays, had empty tables in abundance.

On Tuesday, United Nations secretary general Ban Ki- moon arrives in the region and will hold talks in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Cairo aimed at ending the violence. Israeli analysts believe if that his visit ends without a breakthrough, then the likelihood of a ground offensive will be significantly increased.

However, Israel is aware that an invasion of Gaza may result in military casualties, and militants will undoubtedly try to kidnap soldiers. There is also the danger of heavy Palestinian casualties and a ground incursion is likely to erode the legitimacy the Israeli operation enjoys among western powers.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore is to discuss the conflict with EU colleagues in Brussels on Monday.

“I’m very concerned about it,” he said. “We have seen a very serious escalation in the violence and the attacks, both rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel and Israeli attacks into Gaza.”