Israel Widens Air Assault on Rockets in Gaza; Credits 'Iron Dome' for Shooting Down Incoming Rocket
Israel expanded its air assault on rockets in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, striking a Hamas government compound and a Cabinet building where Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with Egypt's prime minister on Friday.
Israel also said it intercepted an incoming projectile Saturday that was bound for Tel Aviv.
Footage from Associated Press Television News shows a plume of smoke emanating from an Iron Dome battery deployed in Tel Aviv followed by a flash of light overhead as the rocket is intercepted.
People huddled along Tel Aviv's beachfront boardwalk cheered Saturday as the interception took place.
Bombarding the Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes, the Israeli military targeted the militants' weapons-storage facilities and underground rocket-launching sites.
Israeli aircraft also bombed a police headquarters building in Gaza City, which set off a huge blaze that engulfed nearby houses and civilian cars parked outside, the Interior Ministry reported. No one was inside the buildings.
A three-story apartment building belonging to a Hamas military commander was also hit, and ambulances ferried out more than 30 inhabitants wounded by the powerful explosion.
Missiles knocked out five electricity transformers, plunging more than 400,000 people in southern Gaza into darkness, according to the Gaza electricity distribution company.
The Israeli military called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and armored vehicles along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion of the densely populated seaside strip could be imminent.
Israel launched its military campaign Wednesday after days of heavy rocket fire from Gaza and has carried out some 800 airstrikes since, the military said.
Gaza militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the air attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and Israel's Tel Aviv heartland.
Two rockets landed in open fields outside of Jerusalem after air raid sirens sounded in the city Friday, sending Israelis running for cover. The strike marked the first time the holy city has been targeted by rockets fired by Gaza militants. There were no immediate reports of damage or causalities.
Israeli media say the rocket fell north of Jerusalem, as witnesses say they saw a stream of smoke in Mevasseret Zion, a suburb.
Israeli police spokeswoman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in an open area near Gush Ezion, a collection of Jewish settlements in the West Bank southeast of the city.
In Gaza, Hamas militants said they had attacked Jerusalem. The attack marks a major escalation, both for its symbolism and its distance from the Palestinian territory. Jerusalem had been thought to be beyond the range of Gaza rocket squads.
“We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises,” Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas militant wing said.
Militants already have fired rockets into the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv on Thursday. The rocket attacks have not hurt anyone, but have caused panic.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said the Israeli military had called 16,000 reservists to duty on Friday as it geared up for a possible ground offensive
She said the army had authority to draft an additional 14,000 soldiers. She would not say where the troops were deployed.
Ten people, including five militants, were killed and dozens were wounded in the various attacks Saturday, according to Gaza officials. In all, 40 Palestinians including 13 civilians and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the Israeli operation began.
Egypt's prime minister rushed to the aid of the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers Friday in the midst of an Israeli offensive there, calling for an end to the operation, as Palestinian rocket squads aimed at Tel Aviv for a second straight day. The visit served as a boost of solidarity for the Hamas militants who have vowed to resist the Israeli offensive.
Hopes of even a brief cease-fire were dashed after both sides accused the other of violating a proposed cease-fire during a visit by the prime minister of Egypt to Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told Egypt that Israel was prepared to suspend its military offensive in the Gaza Strip during Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's three-hour visit there Friday.
However, Israel later said Hamas did not honor the deal, saying rockets fired from Gaza had hit several sites in southern Israel as Kandil was in the enclave.
Israel strongly denied it had carried out any attacks from the time Kandil entered Gaza, though Gaza militants claimed Israel had continued strikes during the visit.
Along the border Friday, Israeli tanks, armored vehicles and military bulldozers were parked in neat rows. Leibovich said all options are open, “including a ground operation.”
Netanyahu said the army was hitting Hamas hard with what he called surgical strikes, and warned of a "significant widening" of the Gaza operation. Israel will "continue to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people," said Netanyahu, who is up for re-election in January.
"We will continue the attacks and we will increase the attacks, and I believe we will obtain our objectives," said Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief.
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