Iron Dome anti-missile system placed in Jerusalem area


An Iron Dome anti-missile defense system was positioned in the Jerusalem area, reportedly for the first time.

The deployment came on Sunday, according to international news agencies, which also showed photos of the battery in place.

The Israeli military did not comment on its decision to locate the system near Jerusalem.

“The army will not discuss its air-defense assessments,” an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said in a statement. “Our defenses have spread out over different areas according to situational assessments.”

Two rockets landed in nearby Gush Etzion during the Gaza Operation Pillar of Defense last November.

Rockets pound Israel for seventh day


More than 80 rockets were fired at southern Israel in the seventh day since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, including two aimed at Jerusalem.

An air raid siren sounded in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon; two rockets fell in the Gush Etzion area south of Jerusalem. Hamas claimed responsibility for the rockets aimed at Jerusalem.

Shortly before the alarm, a rocket struck a building in the Eshkol Regional Council, reportedly injuring several people. Rockets also hit a home in Netivot and damaged homes in Sderot and Beersheva.

An Israeli reserve soldier was injured by a rocket that fell in the Eshkol Regional Council.

A volley of 16 rockets was fired Tuesday toward Beersheva. One hit the road in front of a bus, damaging the bus, which the passengers had exited due to the air raid siren. A second rocket hit a house and a third hit a parked care. Nine of the 16 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that on Tuesday, it targeted 11 terrorist squads involved in firing rockets toward Israel and planting explosive devices at the border. The IDF also bombed 30 underground rocket launchers and a hiding place for senior terror operatives that was used to store weapons and ammunition, the IDF spokesman said. Overnight, the IDF said it targeted 100 terror sites in Gaza, including underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels and ammunition storage facilities.

“The sites that were targeted were positively identified by precise intelligence over the course of several months,” the IDF statement said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reportedly will land in Israel on Tuesday to encourage a cease-fire. She also will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders, but no one from Hamas, Haaretz reported. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon also arrived in Israel on Tuesday to meet with Israeli leaders.

Iron Dome intercepts more rockets over Tel Aviv, as Netanyahu says IDF prepared to expand operation


The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted one of two missiles fired at the Tel Aviv area.

The missiles fired on Sunday morning, the fifth day of what the Israeli military has dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, mark at least four missiles fired from Gaza at one of Israel's major population centers.

Shrapnel from the intercepted missile, which Hamas reportedly took responsibility for firing, set a car on fire in Holon, located on the outskirts of southern Tel Aviv. The driver was able to exit the car without injury. Hamas identified the long-range missiles as an M75-type rocket, which it said is manufactured in Gaza.  School has not been cancelled in the Tel Aviv area, but remains closed in the south,

At least three Israelis were injured Sunday morning from rocket shrapnel, and several homes and buildings in southern Israel were hit with either missiles or shrapnel.

The Israel Defense Forces reported that it successfully attacked dozens of rocket launchers in Gaza overnight Saturday “causing severe damage to the rocket launching capabilities of Hamas and other terror organizations,” according to the IDF spokesman's office. The IDF also reported that it targeted two Hamas operational communication sites, saying they were identified by “precise intelligence.” The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that six journalists were wounded in the strikes. The IDF warned international journalists and correspondents working in Gaza “to stay clear of Hamas' bases and facilities- which serve them in their activity against the citizens of Israel.”

Some 50 Palestinians, both terrorists and civilians, have been killed and hundreds injured since Operation Pillar of Defense began, according to Ma'an. Three Israelis were killed last week when a rocket from Gaza struck their apartment building and dozens have been injured and treated for shock and anxiety,

Israel's Cabinet on Sunday morning approved an allocation of nearly $2 million in order to complete the financing of building protected daycare centers in communities within up to nearly five miles from the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the regular weekly Cabinet meeting that the IDF “is prepared for a significant expansion of its operation.” The IDF has attacked over 1,000 “terrorist targets” in Gaza and is continuing its operation, the prime minister said.

Netanyahu said he would continue Sunday to speak to world leaders and emphasize “the effort Israel is making to avoid hitting civilians, and this at a time when Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations are making every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel.”

Meanwhile, four cruise ships carrying 6,000 passengers decided not to disembark in Israel as a result of the warning sirens in Jerusalem over the weekend, reported Doron Sheffer of Israel Radio. A rocket fell Friday evening near a Palestinian village in Gush Etzion, located south of Jerusalem

Since Operation Pillar of Defense began on Nov. 14, more than 400 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israeli territory, according to the IDF. The Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted more than 270 rockets from Gaza since Nov. 14.

Egypt reportedly is continuing to try to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and other Gaza terror factions. Netanyahu reportedly has said that he would stop the assault on Gaza if the rocket fire and attacks on soldiers at the border ceases, and will not restart in a matter of weeks.

More diplomacy to try to halt Israel-Gaza fighting


Hostilities between Islamist militants and Israel entered a sixth day on Monday as diplomatic efforts were set to intensify to try to stop rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and Israeli air strikes on Gaza.

International pressure for a ceasefire seemed certain to mount after the deadliest single incident in the flare-up on Sunday claimed the lives of at least 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children.

Three people, including two children, were killed and 30 others were injured in the latest air strike before dawn on Monday on a family home in the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City, medical officials said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment and was checking.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was due to arrive in Cairo to add his weight to the truce efforts. Egypt has taken the lead in trying to broker a ceasefire and its officials met the parties on Sunday.

Israeli media said a delegation from Israel had been to Cairo for talks on ending the fighting, although a government spokesman declined to comment on the matter.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi met Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, and Ramadan Shallah of Islamic Jihad as part of the mediation efforts, but a statement did not say if talks were conclusive.

Izzat Risheq, a close aide to Meshaal, wrote in a Facebook message that Hamas would agree to a ceasefire only after Israel “stops its aggression, ends its policy of targeted assassinations and lifts the blockade of Gaza”.

Listing Israel's terms, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon wrote on Twitter: “If there is quiet in the south and no rockets and missiles are fired at Israel's citizens, nor terrorist attacks engineered from the Gaza Strip, we will not attack.”

Israel withdrew settlers from Gaza in 2005 and two years later Hamas took control of the impoverished enclave, which the Israelis have kept under blockade.

The 11 Palestinian civilians were apparently killed during an Israeli attack on a militant, which brought a three-storey house crashing down on them.

Gaza health officials have said 78 Palestinians, 23 of them children and several women, have been killed in Gaza since Israel's offensive began. Hundreds have been wounded.

GRAVE CONCERN

Ban expressed grave concern in a statement before setting off for the region. He will visit Israel on Tuesday.

“I am deeply saddened by the reported deaths of more than ten members of the Dalu family… (and) by the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which have killed several Israeli civilians. I strongly urge the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had assured world leaders that Israel was doing its utmost to avoid causing civilian casualties in the military showdown with Hamas.

Gaza militants launched dozens of rockets into Israel and targeted its commercial capital, Tel Aviv, for a fourth day on Sunday. Israel's “Iron Dome” missile shield shot down all three rockets.

In scenes recalling Israel's 2008-2009 winter invasion of Gaza, tanks, artillery and infantry have massed in field encampments along the sandy, fenced-off border with Gaza and military convoys moved on roads in the area.

Israel has authorized the call-up of 75,000 reservists, although there was no immediate sign when or whether they might be needed in a ground invasion.

Israel's operation has so far drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called its right to self-defense, but there have also been a growing number of appeals to seek an end to the hostilities.

Netanyahu said Israel was ready to widen its offensive.

“We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organizations and the Israel Defence Forces are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation,” he said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, but gave no further details.

The Israeli military said 544 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel since Wednesday, killing three civilians and wounding dozens. Some 302 rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome and 99 failed to reach Israel and landed inside the Gaza Strip.

Israel's declared goal is to deplete Gaza arsenals and force Hamas to stop rocket fire that has bedeviled Israeli border towns for years. The rockets now have greater range, putting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem within their reach.

The southern resort city of Eilat was apparently added to the list of targets when residents said they heard an explosion thought to be a rocket, but it caused no damage or casualties, police said.

Eilat is thought to be well out of the range of any rocket in possession of Hamas or any other Gaza group. But Palestinian militants have in the recent past fired rockets at Eilat and its surroundings, using Egypt's Sinai desert as a launch site.

SWORN ENEMIES

Hamas and other groups in Gaza are sworn enemies of the Jewish state which they refuse to recognize and seek to eradicate, claiming all Israeli territory as rightfully theirs.

Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian Territories in 2006 but a year later, after the collapse of a unity government under President Mahmoud Abbas the Islamist group seized control of Gaza in a brief and bloody civil war with forces loyal to Abbas.

Abbas then dismissed the Hamas government led by the group's leader Ismail Haniyeh but he refuses to recognize Abbas' authority and runs Gazan affairs.

While it is denounced as a terrorist organization in the West, Hamas enjoys widespread support in the Arab world, where Islamist parties are on the rise.

Western-backed Abbas and Fatah hold sway in the West Bank from their seat of government in the town of Ramallah. The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Christopher Wilson

Israel, Gaza fighting rages on as Egypt seeks truce


Israel bombed militant targets in Gaza for a fifth straight day on Sunday, launching aerial and naval attacks as its military prepared for a possible ground invasion, though Egypt saw “some indications” of a truce ahead.

Forty-seven Palestinians, about half of them civilians, including 12 children, have been killed in Israel's raids, Palestinian officials said. More than 500 rockets fired from Gaza have hit Israel, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Israel unleashed its massive air campaign on Wednesday, killing a leading militant of the Hamas Islamist group that controls Gaza and rejects Israel's existence, with the declared goal of deterring gunmen in the coastal enclave from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years.

The Jewish state has since launched more than 950 air strikes on the coastal Palestinian territory, targeting weaponry and flattening militant homes and headquarters.

The raids continued past midnight on Sunday, with warships bombarding targets from the sea. And an air raid targeted a building in Gaza City housing the offices of local Arab media, wounding three journalists from al Quds television, a station Israel sees as pro-Hamas, witnesses said.

Two other predawn attacks on houses in the Jebalya refugee camp killed one child and wounded 12 other people, medical officials said.

These attacks followed a defiant statement by Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida, who told a televised news conference.

“This round of confrontation will not be the last against the Zionist enemy and it is only the beginning.”

The masked gunman dressed in military fatigues insisted that despite Israel's blows Hamas “is still strong enough to destroy the enemy.”

An Israeli attack on Saturday destroyed the house of a Hamas commander near the Egyptian border.

Casualties there were averted however, because Israel had fired non-exploding missiles at the building beforehand from a drone, which the militant's family understood as a warning to flee, and thus their lives were spared, witnesses said.

Israeli aircraft also bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the offices of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and a police headquarters.

Among those killed in air strikes on Gaza on Saturday were at least four suspected militants riding motorcycles, and several civilians including a 30-year-old woman.

ISRAELI SCHOOLS SHUT

Israel said it would keep schools in its southern region shut on Sunday as a precaution to avoid casualties from rocket strikes reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in the past few days.

Israel's “Iron Dome” missile interceptor system destroyed in mid-air a rocket fired by Gaza militants at Tel Aviv on Saturday, where volleyball games on the beach front came to an abrupt halt as air-raid sirens sounded.

Hamas' armed wing claimed responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, the third against the city since Wednesday. It said it had fired an Iranian-designed Fajr-5 at the coastal metropolis, some 70 km (43 miles) north of Gaza.

In the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.

Israel's operation has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called Israel's right to self-defense, but there was also a growing number of calls from world leaders to seek an end to the violence.

British Prime Minister David Cameron “expressed concern over the risk of the conflict escalating further and the danger of further civilian casualties on both sides,” in a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a spokesperson for Cameron said.

The United Kingdom was “putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate,” the spokesman said, adding that Cameron had urged Netanyahu “to do everything possible to bring the conflict to an end.”

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said the United States would like to see the conflict resolved through “de-escalation” and diplomacy, but also believes Israel has a right to self-defense.

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi said in Cairo as his security deputies sought to broker a truce with Hamas leaders, that “there are some indications that there is a possibility of a ceasefire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees.”

Egypt has mediated previous ceasefire deals between Israel and Hamas, the latest of which unraveled with recent violence.

A Palestinian official told Reuters the truce discussions would continue in Cairo on Sunday, saying “there is hope,” but it was too early to say whether the efforts would succeed.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli official declined to comment on the negotiations. Military commanders said Israel was prepared to fight on to achieve a goal of halting rocket fire from Gaza, which has plagued Israeli towns since late 2000, when failed peace talks led to the outbreak of a Palestinian uprising.

Diplomats at the United Nations said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt in the coming week to push for an end to the fighting.

POSSIBLE GROUND OFFENSIVE

Israel, though, with tanks and artillery positioned along the frontier, signaled it was still weighing a possible ground offensive into Gaza.

Israeli cabinet ministers decided on Friday to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000 and around 16,000 reservists have already been called up.

Asked by reporters whether a ground operation was possible, Major-General Tal Russo, commander of the Israeli forces on the Gaza frontier, said: “Definitely.”

“We have a plan. … It will take time. We need to have patience. It won't be a day or two,” he added.

Another senior commander briefing reporters on condition of anonymity said Israel had scored “good achievements” in striking at nearly 1,000 targets, with the aim of ridding Hamas of firepower imported from Libya, Sudan and Iran.

A possible move into the densely populated Gaza Strip and the risk of major casualties it brings would be a significant gamble for Netanyahu, favorite to win a January national election.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year's period of 2008-09, killed over 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict.

But the Gaza conflagration has stirred the pot of a Middle East already boiling from two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.

One major change has been the election of an Islamist government in Cairo that is allied with Hamas, potentially narrowing Israel's maneuvering room in confronting the Palestinian group. Israel and Egypt made peace in 1979.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Todd Eastham

Air-raid siren sounds in Jerusalem


Air-raid sirens were sounded in Jerusalem on Friday, marking the first time the holy city has been targeted by rocket fire from Gaza.

Initial reports from Israeli television said three rockets had landed in the area of Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.

The alarms come just a day after Gaza rockets landed on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. Previously, Palestinian rocket fire has been largely confined to an area closer to the Gaza Strip, leaving Israel's major population centers largely unscathed.

Israel has authorized the call-up of roughly 16,000 reservists in a sign that a ground invasion of Gaza may be imminent.

 

Images as Operation Pillar of Defense Continues


Israel requests reservists after rockets target cities


Israeli ministers were on Friday 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 on Friday, 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 had endured months of incoming rocket fire from Gaza wehn the violence escaleted on Wednesday with the killing of Hamas's military chief, and targeting longer-range rocket caches in Gaza.   Hamas stepped up rocket attacks in response.

Israeli police said a rocket fired from Gaza landed in the Jerusalem area, outside the city, on Friday.

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 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.

SOLIDARITY VISIT

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 system.

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. 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 attacks.

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.