Warning sirens sound across southern and central Israel, rocket hits Jerusalem


Code Red warning sirens sounded throughout Israel’s center and south, and a rocket hit Jerusalem.

The sirens were heard in Netanya, Kfar Saba, Raanana and areas around Tel Aviv including  Rishon Lezion, Bat Yam, Holon and Bnei Brak at approximately 10 p.m. Tuesday, as well as in communities across the south. They also were heard in northern Israel in Binyamina.

A rocket was intercepted over Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome missile-defense system during the barrage.

The Israeli military confirmed that one rocket hit Jerusalem but did not say where. No injuries were reported.

Before the countrywide barrage of rockets, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “We will do all that is necessary in order to restore quiet to the area. The peace and security of our citizens and children is most important.”

Netanyahu said has ordered a “significant expansion” of the IDF operation against Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza.

Netanyahu called on citizens to obey the instructions of the Home Front Command. He urged Israelis to be patient, saying that the operation “can take some time.”

“We must stand together as one,” Netanyahu said, “united and confident in our rightness. We will act decisively and forcefully to restore calm, and will continue to operate until the calm returns, and our citizens and our children can live safely. ”

The White House on Tuesday evening condemned the rocket attacks against Israel.

“We strongly condemn the continuing rocket fire inside of Israel and the deliberate targeting of civilians by terrorist organizations in Gaza,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.”

Israeli troops exchange fire with Gaza


Palestinians fired a rocket at Israel after a retaliatory strike in Gaza by Israeli aircraft.

A Palestinian Qassam rocket on Friday exploded south of Ashkelon, near the border between Gaza and Israel, Army Radio reported. It caused no damage.

The rocket landed after an Israeli aircraft struck several targets in the Gaza Strip. The air strikes were in retaliation for the launching of four rockets from Gaza into Israel Thursday, the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

The statement said that Palestinian snipers on Thursday fired at security personnel near the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip, causing damage to an armored vehicle.

A 30-year-old man and a baby were injured from shrapnel in the Israeli air strikes, according to a report Friday by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency that quoted officials from Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. The report did not elaborate on their condition.

According to the IDF, the aircraft struck four targets in the northern strip and another in its center. Ma’an reported hits on 10 sites in Gaza in 15 attacks overnight.

Two targeted sites belonged to Hamas militiamen, according to the report; others were a former police station at al-Zahraa and a blacksmith workshop in Jabaliya. One air strike targeted a washing-machine factory in Jabaliya refugee camp that caused a fire, Ma’an reported.

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.

Israel in retaliatory attacks slams Gaza rocket launchers


Israeli airstrikes destroyed concealed rocket launchers in northern Gaza in retaliation for attacks on southern Israel.

The attacks early Wednesday morning were in response to rockets launched at Israel the previous evening as Palestinian prisoners being released by Israel were being transported to the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

“This is an absurd situation that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement issued Wednesday. “The IDF is charged with and will continue to operate in order to safeguard Israel’s civilians, and combat terror and its infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”

One rocket fired Tuesday night at Sderot fell short of its target and is believed to have landed inside Gaza. A second rocket landed in the nearby Sha’ar Hanegev region in an open area. A jihadist group linked to al-Qaida took responsibility for the attacks.

A day earlier, a long-range Grad rocket was fired at Eilat by a jihadist terror group in the Sinai and intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

In the prisoner release, 26 Palestinians were transported in vans to crossings into the West Bank and Gaza. They crossed the border at midnight. Israel agreed to release the prisoners in order to bring the Palestinians back to the peace negotiating table.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas greeted the 11 prisoners freed to the West Bank at a celebration in Ramallah at the site of the Mukata, the presidential palace.

“We welcome our brothers who have left the darkness of prison into the light of freedom and tell them they are the first, but that there are other brothers who too will leave soon. We shall not rest until they are all with us,” Abbas said at the ceremony.

The prisoners first visited the grave of the late P.A. President Yasser Arafat.

The Hamas leadership in Gaza ordered the rival Fatah party to refrain from holding celebrations welcoming home the prisoners, saying it would hold an official ceremony later in the week.

Eventually 104 prisoners jailed before the 1993 Oslo Accords will be released in phases over the next eight months, pending progress in the renewed peace talks, which began Wednesday in Jerusalem under a media blackout.

Gaza rockets hit southern Israel town cited by Obama


Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed on Thursday in a southern Israeli border town that U.S. President Barack Obama mentioned in a speech on his arrival in Israel a day earlier.

Police said there were no casualties but some damage in the attack on Sderot near the Gaza frontier.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike, the second time rockets launched from Gaza have hit Israel since a truce ended an eight-day cross-border war in November.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama visited Sderot, meeting locals and viewing an exhibit of rocket remnants from frequent attacks by Gaza-based militants.

“I've stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear. And flying in today, I saw again how Israel's security can be measured in mere miles and minutes,” Obama told a news conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

Obama is on a three-day visit to Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jordan. He will not travel to Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas, a group sworn to Israel's destruction.

The president was in Jerusalem, some 80 km (50 miles) from Sderot, when the rockets struck several hours before his visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Hamas's rival, Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We condemn violence against civilians regardless of its source, including rocket firing,” Abbas was quoted as saying by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

“We are in favor of maintaining mutual and comprehensive calm in Gaza,” he added.

At Tel Aviv airport on Wednesday, Obama inspected an Iron Dome anti-missile battery, a partially U.S.-funded system that has been used to shoot down rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.

Reporting by Ori Lewis, Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Israel violated ‘laws of war’ in Gaza, says Human Rights Watch


Human Rights Watch said Israeli air strikes during the most recent Gaza Strip conflict “violated the laws of war.”

Field investigations, which the group said were not comprehensive, found 14 instances in which Israeli unmanned drones or fixed wing aircraft hit areas “with no indication of a legitimate military target,” and another four in which there were identifiable military targets but which “appeared to use indiscriminate means or caused disproportionate harm to civilians.”

The air strikes killed “at least 43 Palestinian civilians, including 12 children,” the group said.

Israel Radio quoted the Israeli military as saying it was investigating its attacks during the Nov. 14-21 conflict, which was precipitated by an intensification of Hamas rocket fire on southern Israel communities.

Human Rights Watch said it was releasing its findings now because past such investigations “were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violation.”

The group pointed out that it had previously reported that “Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of inherently indiscriminate rockets against Israeli population centers in violation of the laws of war.”

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.

Israel shoots down Hamas rocket fired at Tel Aviv


Israel's “Iron Dome” interceptor system shot down two incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip on Sunday night and no casualties or damage was reported, a police spokesman said.

Hamas, Gaza's Islamist rulers, claimed responsibility for firing at the city.

It was the second strike on Israel's commercial capital on Sunday. In the earlier attack, one person was hurt by falling debris from a rocket that was intercepted south of the city.

Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Crispian Balmer

Tens of millions of hackers target Israel government Web sites


More than 44 million hacking attempts have been made on Israeli government web sites since Wednesday when Israel began its Gaza air strikes, the government said on Sunday.

Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said just one hacking attempt was successful on a site he did not want to name, but it was up and running after 10 minutes of downtime.

Typically, there are a few hundred hacking attempts a day on Israeli sites, the ministry said.

Attempts on defence-related sites have been the highest, while 10 million attempts have been made on the site of Israel's president, 7 million on the Foreign Ministry and 3 million on the site of the prime minister.

Screenshot from Groupon.co.il which was hacked by Pakistani hackers.

A ministry spokesman said while the attacks have come from around the world, most have been from Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“The ministry's computer division will continue to block the millions of cyber attacks,” Steinitz said. “We are enjoying the fruits of our investment in recent years in developing computerised defence systems.”

Steinitz has instructed his ministry to operate in emergency mode to counter attempts to undermine government sites.

Both sides in the Gaza conflict, but particularly Israel, are embracing the social media as one of their tools of warfare. The Israeli Defense Force has established a presence on nearly every platform available while Palestinian militants are active on Twitter.

“The war is taking place on three fronts. The first is physical, the second is on the world of social networks and the third is cyber,” said Carmela Avner, Israel's chief information officer.

Last month, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said cyberspace is the battlefield of the future, with attackers already going after banks and other financial systems. U.S. banks have been under sustained attack by suspected Iranian hackers thought to be responding to economic sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate over its nuclear program.

Reporting by Steven Scheer; Editing by Stephen Powell

Obama: Missile fire from Gaza must stop first


President Obama told the Egyptian and Turkish leaders that a resolution to the Gaza-Israel violence must begin with an end to rocket fire into Israel.

“If we’re serious about wanting to resolve this situation and create a genuine peace process, it starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel’s territory, and that then gives us the space to try to deal with these longstanding conflicts that exist,” Obama said Sunday at a news conference in Bangkok, the first leg of his tour of Asian countries.

Obama said he had spoken multiple times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who happened to be visiting Egypt during the current crisis.

Story continues after the jump.

 

Both leaders are among a handful of nations that have close ties with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.

Obama repeated his assertion that Hamas and other terrorist groups were responsible for the recent intensification of the violence.

“Let’s understand what the precipitating event here was that’s causing the current crisis, and that was an ever-escalating number of missiles,” the U.S. leader said. “They were landing not just in Israeli territory, but in areas that are populated. And there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.

“So we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians. And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Obama said he was “actively” working with all parties to end the missile fire, and he wanted to see progress in the next 48 hours.

“What I’ve said to President Morsi and Prime Minister Erdogan is that those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future,” he said.

Israel hits Hamas government buildings, reservists mobilized


Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the prime minister's office, after Israel's cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

Palestinian militants in Gaza kept up cross-border salvoes, firing a rocket at Israel's biggest city Tel Aviv for the third straight day. Police said it was destroyed in mid-air by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery deployed hours earlier, and no one was injured.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, said Israeli missiles wrecked the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister – and struck a police headquarters.

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

With Israeli tanks and artillery positioned along the Gaza border and no end in sight to hostilities now in their fourth day, Tunisia's foreign minister travelled to the enclave in a show of Arab solidarity.

Officials in Gaza said 41 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

In Cairo, a presidential source said Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi would hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in the Egyptian capital on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis.

Egypt has been working to reinstate calm between Israel and Hamas after an informal ceasefire brokered by Cairo unraveled over the past few weeks. Meshaal, who lives in exile, has already held a round of talks with Egyptian security officials.

Israel uncorked its massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared goal of deterring Hamas from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years. The salvoes recently intensified, and are now displaying greater range.

The operation has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called Israel's right to self-defense, along with appeals to both sides to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas, shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel, says its cross-border attacks have come in response to Israeli strikes against Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

“We have not limited ourselves in means or in time,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel's Channel One television. “We hope that it will end as soon as possible, but that will be only after all the objectives have been achieved.”

Hamas says it is committed to continued confrontation with Israel and is eager not to seem any less resolute than smaller, more radical groups that have emerged in Gaza in recent years.

The Islamist movement has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but maintains a blockade of the tiny, densely populated coastal territory.

RESERVE TROOP QUOTA DOUBLED

At a late night session on Friday, Israel's cabinet decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000, political sources said.

The move did not necessarily mean all would be called up or that an invasion would follow. Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the sandy border zone on Saturday, and around 16,000 reservists have already been summoned to active duty.

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.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt next week to push for an end to the fighting in Gaza, U.N. diplomats said on Friday.

Hamas's armed wing claimed responsibility for Saturday's rocket attack on Tel Aviv, saying it had fired a longer-range, Iranian-designed Fajr-5 at the coastal metropolis, some 70 km (43 miles) north of the Gaza Strip.

After air raid sirens sounded, witnesses saw two white plumes rise into the sky over the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv and heard an explosion when the incoming rocket was hit.

The anti-missile battery had been due to take delivery of its fifth Iron Dome battery early next year but it was rushed into service near Tel Aviv after rockets were launched toward the city on Thursday and Friday. Those attacks caused no damage or casualties.

In Jerusalem, targeted by a Palestinian rocket on Friday for the first time in 42 years, there was little outward sign on the Jewish Sabbath that the attack had any impact on the usually placid pace of life in the holy city.

In Gaza, some families abandoned their homes – some of them damaged and others situated near potential Israeli targets – and packed into the houses of friends and relatives.

ISRAEL'S GAZA TARGETS

The Israeli army said it had zeroed in on a number of government buildings during the night, including Haniyeh's office, the Hamas Interior Ministry and a police compound.

Taher al-Nono, a spokesman for the Hamas government, held a news conference near the rubble of the prime minister's office and pledged: “We will declare victory from here.”

A three-storey house belonging to Hamas official Abu Hassan Salah was also hit and totally destroyed early on Saturday. Rescuers said at least 30 people were pulled from the rubble.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama commended Egypt's efforts to help defuse the Gaza violence in a call to Morsi on Friday, the White House said in a statement, and underscored his hope of restoring stability there.

On Friday, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil paid a high-profile visit to Gaza, denouncing what he called Israeli aggression and saying Cairo was prepared to mediate a truce.

Egypt's Islamist government, freely elected after U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak fell to a popular uprising last year, is allied with Hamas but Cairo is also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

In a call to Netanyahu, Obama discussed options for “de-escalating” the situation, the White House said, adding that the president “reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives”.

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 2008-09, killed over 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

But few believe Israeli military action can snuff out militant rocket fire entirely without a reoccupation of Gaza, an option all but ruled out because it would risk major casualties and an international outcry.

While Hamas rejects the Jewish state's existence, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in areas of the nearby West Bank, does recognize Israel but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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.

 

Israeli general tells mayors to prepare for weeks of fighting


Israel’s Home Front Command reportedly has instructed municipalities around Gaza to prepare for a fighting period of up to seven weeks.

The news site Ynet reported Friday that GOC Home Front Command Eyal Eisenberg told subordinate officers and mayors of southern and central municipalities to prepare for “up to seven weeks of fighting.”

On Friday, the third day of Israel’s operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, thousands of Israel Defense Forces troops arrived at military bases in Israel’s south for possible preparation for a ground incursion into Gaza. Hundreds of military trucks arrived carrying munitions, fuel, water and equipment alongside tank carriers and army jeeps in roads around the Gaza Strip, Ynet reported.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz has called up 16,000 reserve troops. On Thursday, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said a ground incursion was “definitely an option.”

Israel taking steps to mobilize up to 75,000 reservists


Defence Minister Ehud Barak sought government approval on Friday to mobilize up to 75,000 reserve troops for Israel's Gaza campaign, political sources said, in a sign of preparations for a possible ground offensive.

The sources, speaking after Palestinian rockets were fired at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, said ministers were being polled by telephone by the cabinet secretary to approve the call-up.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Crispian Balmer

UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon urges end to “dangerous escalation” in Gaza


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called on Israel and Hamas to “stop this dangerous escalation” in the Gaza Strip to avoid further bloodshed in Israel and the Palestinian territories, Ban's spokesman said.

“The Secretary-General is extremely concerned about the continued violence in Gaza and Israel, and deeply worried by the rising cost in terms of civilian lives,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. “Rocket attacks are unacceptable and must stop at once. Israel must exercise maximum restraint.”

Nesirky added that Ban “plans to visit the region shortly.” U.N. diplomats have said that Ban will visit Israel and Egypt next week.

“A new cycle of bloodshed will make neither Israelis nor Palestinians more secure,” Nesirky said. “Nor will bloodshed open the door to negotiations that could achieve the two-state solution necessary to end such violence permanently.”

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.

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.

Israeli cabinet authorizes mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists


Israel's cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists late on Friday, preparing the ground for a possible Gaza invasion after Palestinians fired a rocket toward Jerusalem for the first time in decades.

Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial centre, also came under rocket attack for the second straight day, in defiance of an Israeli air offensive that began on Wednesday with the declared aim of deterring Hamas from launching cross-border attacks that have plagued southern Israel for years.

Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for firing at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Israel said the rocket launched toward Jerusalem landed in the occupied West Bank, and the one fired at Tel Aviv did not hit the city. There were no reports of casualties.

The siren that sounded in Jerusalem stunned many Israelis. The city, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, was last struck by a Palestinian rocket in 1970, and it was not a target when Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired missiles at Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a four-hour strategy session with a clutch of senior ministers in Tel Aviv on widening the military campaign, while other cabinet members were polled by telephone on raising the mobilization level.

Political sources said they decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000. The move did not necessarily mean all would be called into service.

Hours earlier, Egypt's prime minister, denouncing what he described as Israeli aggression, visited Gaza and said Cairo was prepared to mediate a truce.

Officials in Gaza said 29 Palestinians – 13 militants and 16 civilians, among them eight children and a pregnant woman – had been killed in the enclave since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

The Israeli military said 97 rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel on Friday and 99 more were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Dozens of Israeli bombing raids rocked the enclave, and one flattened the Gaza Interior Ministry building.

In a further sign Netanyahu might be clearing the way for a ground operation, Israel's armed forces announced that a highway leading to the territory and two roads bordering the enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians would be off-limits to civilian traffic.

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.

Netanyahu is favorite to win a January national election, but further rocket strikes against Tel Aviv, a free-wheeling city Israelis equate with New York, and Jerusalem, which Israel regards as its capital, could be political poison for the conservative leader.

“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.”

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 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 Morsi, 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 Morsi 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 recognize Israel's right to exist. By contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in the nearby West Bank, does recognize 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.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Giles Elgood and Will Waterman

Obama, Netanyahu talk ‘de-escalation’


President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed “de-escalation” of the Gaza conflict.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu called the President today to provide an update on the situation in Israel and Gaza,” said a White House statement released late Frdiay.  “The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to the president and the American people for the United States’ investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives.”

The statement continued: “The president reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives. The two leaders discussed options for de-escalating the situation.”

The reference to de-escalation came the same day that Netanyahu appeared ready to expand the operation into a ground war, as Palestinian rockets for the first time reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“With respect to the ongoing operation the prime minister said that the IDF is continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza,” said a statement from Netanyahu's office Friday, recounting his meeting with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres.

In a separate statement, the White House said Obama had spoken to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and also discussed de-escalation.

“The president commended Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the situation and expressed his hope that these efforts would be successful,” the statement said.  “The president expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and underscored the importance of resolving the situation as quickly as possible to restore stability and prevent further loss of life.”

Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement is close to Hamas, has condemned the Israeli strikes and has called for a cease-fire.

Israel's Cabinet on Friday approved a call-up of 75,000 reservists, Haaretz reported.

The operation, launched Wednesday by Israel after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza, has claimed some 30 Palestinian lives, including a number of children; a top commander of the Hamas terrorist group, killed in the first minutes of attacks; and an alleged informant killed by Hamas.

A rocket killed three Israeli civilians in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Operation Pillar of Defense [VIDEO]


Three Israelis killed by rocket from Gaza as U.N. Security Council meets over Gaza attacks


Three Israelis were killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit their Kiryat Malachi home.

The rocket that struck the private home on Thursday morning was one of nearly 200 rockets fired from Gaza since the assassination late Wednesday afternoon of Hamas military chief in Gaza, Ahmed Jabari. The strike came after four days of rocket fire from Gaza terrorist groups on southern Israel. More than 150 rockets are reported to have been fired from Gaza during that time, causing damage to homes and factories.

A baby girl and a 4-year-old boy were also injured in the attack. A second building in Kiryat Malachi also was hit.

Rockets rained down on communities in southern Israel overnight. A school on Ofakim was hit, as was a home in Ashdod, and a factory near Ashkelon.

Some rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system.

The Israel Defense Forces overnight Wednesday bombed about 100 medium- and long-range rocket launch and infrastructure sites throughout Gaza, according to the IDF spokesman.

“This has significantly damaged the rocket launch capabilities and munitions warehouses operated by Hamas and other terror organizations,” the IDF said in a statement.

“The aim of targeting these sites is to impair the rocket launching capability of terror organizations in the Gaza strip and damage their further build up,” the IDF also said.

Israel's Air Force also bombed several rocket launching squads as they prepared to fire rockets toward southern Israel, according to the IDF.

Eleven Palestinians have been killed and dozens injured in the Israeli strikes, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Israel also has mobilized several infantry units and called up reserve troops. Israel last entered Gaza with ground troops during the monthlong Gaza war that began in December 2008.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting early Thursday morning on Israel's new operation in Gaza. The meeting was held at the request of Egypt, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority and the envoys of both Israel and the Palestinians were invited to attend the meeting. The council failed to endorse a plan of action, agreeing only to issue a statement saying that the emergency meeting took place.

“We have demonstrated maximum restraint for years, but the Israeli government has a right and a duty to respond to these attacks,” Israeli envoy Ron Prosor told the council. “Israel will not play Russian roulette with the lives of our citizens.”

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour referred to “Israel’s malicious onslaught, using the most lethal military means and illegal measures against the defenseless Palestinian civilian population.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice defended Israel's right to defend itself. On Wednesday night, President Obama called Netanyahu and voiced support for Israel's right to self defense, while urging Netanyahu to avoid civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Israel over the Gaza strikes. Israel's ambassador to Cairo, YAakov Amitai, was also called back to Jerusalem out of fear for his safety in the face of expected protests.The entire embassy staff was evacuated Wednesday.

Israel's Security Cabinet on Wednesday night authorized the call-up of reserve units, per the discretion of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The Cabinet authorized the IDF to “continue vigorous action against the terrorist infrastructures operating from the Gaza Strip against the civilian population in Israel in order to bring about an improvement in the security reality and allow a normal life for the residents of the State of Israel.”

“Alongside the military effort, Israel will, to the best of its ability, work to avoid harming civilians while honoring the humanitarian needs of the population, in keeping with the rules of international law,” the directive said.

The current operation in Gaza has been dubbed Operation Pillar of Defense, a reference to the cloud that followed the Israelites in the desert according to the Bible. The pillar of clouds shielded and protected the Israelites.

Rockets hit near Tel Aviv as war looms over Gaza


[UPDATE 11:13 am] Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday in the first attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years, raising the stakes in a showdown between Israel and the Palestinians that is moving towards all-out war.

Earlier Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 16 in a military showdown lurching closer to all-out war and a threatened invasion of the enclave. 

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city for a second day, shaking tall buildings. In a sign of possible escalation, the armed forces spokesman said the military had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Palestinian militants would pay a price for firing the missiles.

Plumes of smoke and dust furled into a sky laced with the vapor trails of outgoing rockets over the crowded city, where four young children killed on Wednesday were buried.

After enduring months of incoming rocket fire from Gaza,   Israel retaliated with the killing of Hamas's military chief, and targeting longer-range rocket caches in Gaza.

[Related: Rocket strikes southern outskirts of Tel Aviv]

Egypt's new Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, viewed by Hamas as a protector, led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by Palestinian allies.

Mosi's prime minister, Hisham Kandil, will visit Gaza on Friday with other Egyptian officials in a show of support for the enclave, an Egyptian cabinet official said. Israel promised that the delegation would come to no harm.

Israel says its attack is in response to escalating missile strikes from Gaza. Israel's bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault is still an option.

Israeli police said three Israelis died when a rocket hit a four-story building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, some 25 km (15 miles) north of Gaza, the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.

Air raid sirens sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel's commercial centre which has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War. A security source said it landed in the sea. Tel Aviv residents said an explosion could be heard.

The Tel Aviv metropolitan area holds more than 3 million people, more than 40 percent of Israel's population.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas was committing a double war crime, by firing at Israeli civilians and hiding behind Palestinians civilians.

“I hope that Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza got the message,” he said. “If not, Israel is prepared to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people.”

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel would pay a heavy price “for this open war which they initiated”.

After watching powerlessly from the sidelines of the Arab Spring, Israel has been thrust to the centre of a volatile new world in which Islamist Hamas hopes that Mursi and his newly dominant Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be its protectors.

“The Israelis must realize that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region,” Mursi said.

The new conflict will be the biggest test yet of Mursi's commitment to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which the West views as the bedrock of Middle East peace.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which brought Mursi to power in an election after the downfall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has called for a “Day of Rage” in Arab capitals on Friday. The Brotherhood is seen as the spiritual mentors of Hamas.

ASSASSINATION

The offensive began on Wednesday when a precision Israeli airstrike killed Hamas military mastermind Ahmed Al-Jaabari. Israel then began shelling the enclave from land, air and sea.

At Jaabari's funeral on Thursday, supporters fired guns in the air celebrating news of the Israeli deaths, to chants for Jaabari of “You have won.”

His corpse was borne through the streets wrapped in a bloodied white sheet. But senior Hamas figures were not in evidence, wary of Israel's warning they are in its crosshairs.

The Israeli army said 250 targets were hit in Gaza, including more than 130 rocket launchers. It said more than 270 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, with its Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down more than 105 rockets headed for residential areas.

Expecting days or more of fighting and almost inevitable civilian casualties, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets in Gaza telling residents to stay away from Hamas and other militants.

The United States condemned Hamas, shunned by the West as an obstacle to peace for its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

“There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel,” said Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesman.

The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, but took no action.

In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabious said: “It would be a catastrophe if there is an escalation in the region.Israel has the right to security but it won't achieve it through violence. The Palestinians also have the right to a state.”

“GATES OF HELL”

Israel's sworn enemy Iran, which supports and arms Hamas, condemned the Israeli offensive as “organized terrorism”. Lebanon's Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, which has its own rockets aimed at the Jewish state, denounced strikes on Gaza as “criminal aggression”, but held its fire.

Oil prices rose more than $1 as the crisis grew. Israeli shares and bonds fell, while Israel's currency rose off Wednesday's lows, when the shekel slid more than 1 percent to a two-month low against the dollar.

A second Gaza war has loomed on the horizon for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes grew increasingly intense and frequent. Netanyahu, favored in polls to win a January 22 general election, said on Wednesday the Gaza operation could be stepped up.

His cabinet has granted authorization for the mobilization of military reserves if required to press the offensive, dubbed “Pillar of Defence” in English and “Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew after the Israelites' divine sign of deliverance in Exodus.

Hamas has said the killing of its top commander in a precise, death-from-above airstrike, would “open the gates of hell” for Israel. It appealed to Egypt to halt the assault.

Israel has been anxious since Mubarak was toppled last year in the Arab Spring revolts that replaced secularist strongmen with elected Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and brought civil war to Israel's other big neighbor Syria.

Cairo recalled its ambassador from Israel on Wednesday. Israel's ambassador left Cairo on what was called a routine home visit and Israel said its embassy would stay open.

Gaza has an estimated 35,000 Palestinian fighters, no match for Israel's F-16 fighter-bombers, Apache helicopter gunships, Merkava tanks and other modern weapons systems in the hands of a conscript force of 175,000, with 450,000 in reserve.

This story was edited by JewishJournal.com.  

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Erika Solomon in Beirut, John Irish in Paris. Marwa Awad in Cairo.; Writing by Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Peter Graff

Gaza rocket hits city near Tel Aviv, no damage or casualties


A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck an Israeli city on the outskirts of Tel Aviv on Thursday, exploding in an open area within the municipal limits of Rishon Lezion, the army said.

Air raid sirens sounded in Rishon Lezion, a city some 12 km (seven miles) south of Tel Aviv, and an explosion was heard. A military spokeswoman said the rocket hit an uninhabited area. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

Israeli media reports said the rocket came down near an amusement park in sand dunes on the edge of Rishon Lezion, a city of 300,000 people. It was the northernmost point struck by a rocket since Israel's Gaza offensive began on Wednesday.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Crispian Balmer

Online campaign urging Israel supporters to wear red


An online campaign is asking people around the world to send in photos of themselves wearing red clothing in support of residents of southern Israel.

The Stop The Rockets campaign was launched Tuesday by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students to remind people of the Code Red alarm sounded when a rocket is about to fall in the area. Photos from such places as Australia, the United States, Canada and Israel have been uploaded to Facebook.

The campaign was the joint initiative of AUJS students and Leora Golomb, The Jewish Agency for Israel's emissary to AUJS.

“As a former student at Ben-Gurion University who lived for three years in Beersheva, I explained to the students how difficult it was for the residents of the South,” Golomb said. “I felt that we needed to do something, no matter how small, to show our support and solidarity. The students agreed and immediately began working on the campaign.”

Some 150 rockets fired from Gaza struck Israel from Nov. 10 to Nov. 13. Since Wednesday evening, more than 140 rockets have struck Israel, killing three.

France’s Hollande contacts Netanyahu to end Gaza fighting


French President Francois Hollande has made contact with the leaders of Israel and Egypt to try to prevent an escalation of fighting in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Jean-Francois Ayrault said on Thursday.

The killing of a Hamas militant commander in an Israeli air strike on Wednesday has sparked a wave of reciprocal attacks between Israel and the Islamist Hamas, which rules Gaza. A total of 16 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed.

“It's time to stop this escalation, which is dangerous for the security of Israel and its people and for that of the Palestinian people,” Ayrault told reporters during a visit to Berlin.

France had made “direct contact” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, he added. “France will do everything it can to avoid an escalation of the violence.”

Mursi on Thursday condemned Israeli air strikes on Gaza as unacceptable aggression and ordered Egypt's prime minister to visit the neighbouring enclave in a show of support for the Palestinians.

Two rockets fired from Gaza on Thursday targeted Tel Aviv in the first attack on Israel's commercial capital in 20 years, raising the stakes in the showdown between Israel and Palestinian militants. No casualties or damage were reported.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city for a second day, shaking tall buildings. In a sign of possible escalation, Israel's armed forces spokesman said it had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Obama speaks to Israeli, Egyptian leaders about Gaza violence


President Barack Obama spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi on Wednesday and reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to self-defense in light of rocket attacks from Gaza, the White House said.

Obama spoke to the leaders about the rocket attacks being launched from Gaza into Israel and the escalating violence in Gaza, the White House said in a statement.

“The president urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to make every effort to avoid civilian casualties. The two agreed that Hamas needs to stop its attacks on Israel to allow the situation to de-escalate,” the statement said.

“The president also spoke with President Mursi given Egypt's central role in preserving regional security. In their conversation, President Obama condemned the rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and reiterated Israel's right to self-defense,” it said.

Obama and Mursi agreed on the importance of “working to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible” and would stay in close touch in the days ahead, the White House said.

Egypt, only one of two Arab countries with a peace treaty with Israel, has played a role in recent years brokering a suspension of hostilities between Israel and Hamas militants who rule in the Gaza Strip.

Mursi, Egypt's new Islamist president, has been under pressure from Washington to safeguard Egypt's peace deal with the Jewish state. Egypt maintains contacts with Hamas' leadership in Gaza and has diplomatic relations with Israel.

Egypt's military receives heavy U.S. financial aid, and Cairo is looking to Washington for development assistance and debt forgiveness to help its ailing economy.

Israeli President Shimon Peres briefed Obama on Wednesday about Israel's killing of the Hamas military commander in Gaza.

The U.N. Security Council was holding an emergency meeting late on Wednesday to discuss the Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Reporting by Jeff Mason, Mark Felsenthal, and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Christopher Wilson

U.N. Security Council calls emergency session on Israel raids


The U.N. Security Council will hold a closed emergency meeting on Wednesday night to discuss Israeli strikes against the Gaza Strip as Israel threatened a wider offensive in the Palestinian enclave to stem rocket salvoes by Hamas militants.

The French U.N. mission said on its Twitter feed that the meeting would be a “closed private debate” beginning at 9 p.m. EST. Council diplomats said Israeli and Palestinians envoys would speak at the meeting.

Separately, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's press office said in two separate statements that he spoke on the telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt.

“(Ban) expressed his concern (to Netanyahu) about the deteriorating situation in southern Israel and the Gaza Strip, which includes an alarming escalation of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the targeted killing by Israel of a Hamas military operative in Gaza,” the U.N. said.

Ban also voiced his expectation that “Israeli reactions are measured so as not to provoke a new cycle of bloodshed.”

He also discussed with Mursi “the need to prevent any further deterioration,” the U.N. said in a second statement.

The emergency council meeting comes after the Palestinian Authority's U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour urged the Security Council to take a stand on Israel's latest offensive in the Gaza, which he said amounted to “illegal criminal actions.”

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor responded by calling on the international community to condemn “indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli citizens – children, women.” He was referring to five days of escalating Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza.

The militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, controls Gaza.

Israel launched a new major offensive against Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza on Wednesday, killing Hamas' military commander in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave that the Islamist group said would “open the gates of hell.

MAJOR OFFENSIVE

In a letter to Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, president of the 15-nation council this month, Mansour said a “message must be sent to Israel to cease its military campaign against the Palestinian people under its occupation, including the cessation of extrajudicial killing.”

“This escalation, which continues at this moment, demands the attention of the international community, including the Security Council, with the aim of averting the further deterioration and destabilization of the situation on the ground and the fueling by Israel of yet another deadly cycle of violence and bloodshed,” Mansour said.

Speaking to reporters, Prosor described the Hamas military commander Israel killed, Ahmed Al-Jaabari, as a “mass murderer” who had been planning fresh attacks against Israeli citizens.

It was unclear what a Security Council meeting would achieve since the 15-nation body is generally deadlocked on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which envoys say is due to the U.S. determination to protect Israeli.

“We want the Security Council to act in accordance with its responsibilities to stop this aggression against our people,” Mansour said, without offering details of what action he wanted.

A new Gaza war has loomed for months as waves of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli strikes have grown more intense and frequent.

Mansour said the Israeli action was intended to draw attention away from the Palestinians' plan to seek an upgrade of its observer status at the United Nations from that of an “entity” to a “non-member state,” implicitly recognizing Palestinian statehood.

Israel and the United States have made clear they would oppose the Palestinian upgrade, which would give it the right to join international bodies like the International Criminal Court, where it could file legal complaints against Israel.

U.N. diplomats said a vote on the Palestinian request was tentatively scheduled for November 29. A senior Western diplomat said the Palestinians would easily secure 120 to 130 votes out of the 193-nation General Assembly, which would ensure the success of their upgraded status at the United Nations.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Lisa Shumaker

Gaza militants signal truce with Israel after rockets


Palestinian militants indicated they were ready for a truce with Israel on Monday to defuse a growing crisis after four days of rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip into the south of the Jewish state.

There was no immediate response from Israel which has warned it is ready to ramp up its air strikes and shelling if the rockets do not cease.

Leaders of Hamas, the Islamist faction that controls Gaza, met with Islamic Jihad and other groups on Monday night and said they would respond according to the way Israel acted – a formulation used in previous flare-ups to offer a ceasefire.

“If (Israel) is interested in calm they should stop the aggression,” Sami Abu Zuhri of Hamas told Reuters.

The Palestinian people were acting in self-defense, he said.

“The ball is in Israel's court. The resistance factions will observe Israel's behavior on the ground and will act accordingly,” said Khaled Al-Batsh of the Islamic Jihad group.

Throughout the day, Israel warned it was ready for stronger action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened foreign ambassadors in what an apparent move to pre-empt international censure should Israel, whose 2008-2009 Gaza offensive exacted a high civilian toll, again go in hard.

Netanyahu briefed the envoys in Ashkelon, a port city within range of some Palestinian rockets. “None of their governments would accept a situation like this,” he said.

He was due to convene his close forum of nine senior ministers on Tuesday to decide a course of action. Israel Radio said Defence Minister Ehud Barak and military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz had met with Netanyahu on Monday night to present possible attack scenarios.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, an influential member of Netanyahu's Likud party, said the briefing was meant to prepare world opinion for “what is about to happen”, adding there might be a major Israeli escalation within a few hours.

“Hamas bears responsibility. The heads of Hamas should pay the price and not sleep at night. I expect to see not just a return to targeted killings, but also to very wide activity by (the army),” he told Israel Radio.

Hamas took part in some missile launches at the weekend but it did not claim responsibility for attacks earlier on Monday, suggesting it was looking to step back from the brink.

The Israeli military said Palestinians had fired 12 rockets on Monday, and a total of 119 had been launched since Saturday.

Netanyahu said a million Israelis – around one-eighth of the population – were in danger. Israel has been deploying its Iron Dome rocket interceptor, air raid sirens and blast shelters, but eight people have been wounded by the rockets.

Six Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed by Israeli shells fired on Gaza since Saturday, and at least 40 have been wounded.

EGYPT IN THE PICTURE

A Palestinian official who declined to be named said Egypt had been trying to broker a ceasefire and although no formal truce was in place, Hamas understood the need for calm.

Monday's launches were claimed by smaller groups, including a radical Salafi organization that rejects Hamas's authority.

Israel has shown little appetite for a new Gaza war, which could strain relations with the new Islamist-rooted government in neighboring Egypt. The countries made peace in 1979.

But Netanyahu may be reluctant to seem weak ahead of a January 22 election that opinion polls currently predict he will win.

Israel said the latest flare-up started on Thursday with a fierce border clash. On Saturday, a Palestinian missile strike wounded four Israeli troops patrolling the boundary, triggering army shelling of Gaza in which the four civilians died.

In turn, dozens of mortars and rockets were launched at Israel, which carried out a series of air strikes in Gaza.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Editing by Ori Lewis, Douglas Hamilton and Andrew Heavens

Hamas renews rocket fire from Gaza; 17 missiles explode in southern Israel


Hamas has launched a barrage of rockets toward southern Israel on Tuesday afternoon, after months of restraint on behalf of the Gaza rulers.

Seven rockets exploded in open areas in Eshkol Regional Council on Tuesday afternoon, after four rockets were fired at Hof Ashkelon and Sha’ar Hanegev regional councils overnight Monday.

There were no reported casualties or damage.

Hamas took responsibility for the rocket fire overnight Monday, and announced on Tuesday afternoon that its military wing had fired 10 Grad rockets toward Israel.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

With rocket fire continuing, southern Israeli schools are closed


Schools were closed in southern Israel again as rockets fired from the Gaza Strip continued to strike despite a cease-fire.

The cities of Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi and Gan Yavne canceled classes for Thursday after several rockets targeted Beersheba the day before. Schoolchildren in Netivot were sent home Thursday after a rocket landed next to a school that morning while it was in session.

At least half a dozen rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel by mid-afternoon Thursday. Two rockets fired at Beersheba were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Islamic Jihad has denied responsibility for Thursday’s rocket fire, according to Haaretz. The military believes small, radical factions are firing the rockets.

Early Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said it struck a rocket-launching site and what it called a “terror tunnel” in Gaza. “The targeting of these sites is in direct response to the rockets fired at Israel,” including rockets fired Wednesday night against Beersheba, an IDF statement said.

“Hamas uses other terror organizations to carry out terror attacks against the State of Israel and will bear the consequences of these actions in any future operation embarked upon by the IDF in order to eliminate the terror threat and restore the relative calm to the area,” the statement added.

Terrorist groups in Gaza began launching a barrage of rockets at Israel on March 9 after Israel assassinated Zuhir Mussah Ahmed Kaisi, leader of the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza. The IDF believed Kaisi was planning a terrorist strike in Israel.

Since the violence began, more than 200 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip. Tens of rockets have hit Israel since an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire was announced at 1 a.m. Tuesday.