Rockets target Jerusalem, Israel ‘ready’ to attack


Palestinian militants fired rockets for the first time at Jerusalem on Friday in a daring new escalation of hostilities with Israel on the third day of their latest lethal conflict over Gaza, triggering air raid sirens and panicking residents who had thought themselves secure from such attacks because of the holy city's multireligious heritage and large Palestinian population.

The Israeli authorities did not immediately confirm the origin of the rocket fire, but it was assumed that the source was Gaza, where Palestinian militant group Hamas and its radical affiliates have amassed arsenals of smuggled rockets with increased ranges and more accurate trajectories in recent years. On Thursday, they launched at least two at Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest city, for the first time, and on Friday launched more as part of a response to a large-scale aerial assault by the Israelis on targets in Gaza and indications that Israel was close to launching its first ground invasion there in four years.

Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, had been previously thought off-limits to rocket attacks by militant Palestinians and others who reject Israel's claim to the city as its capital. Even Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, had avoided targeting the city when he aimed Scud missiles at Israel during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. The city is about 48 miles from the Gaza border.

The police in Jerusalem said no rockets fell within city limits, but one crashed harmlessly near a Jewish West Bank settlement just south of Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem rocket attack came hours after scores of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, striking major cities of the south, causing widespread panic and damage and shattering plans for a temporary cease-fire during a remarkable visit to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister that showed the shifting dynamics of Middle East politics since the turmoil of the Arab Spring uprisings.

That these rockets were still being fired seemed to weigh heavily in Israeli military calculations about a ground invasion. After a meeting with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Army was "continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza," according to a statement from his office.

Netanyahu said the aim was "to take out the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza while doing everything possible not to harm civilians."

The rapidly escalating confrontation between Hamas and Israel followed an Israeli airstrike on Wednesday that killed the top commander of Hamas, and the tit-for-tat violence is widely seen as a potential catalyst for broader hostilities at a time of spreading turmoil in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

Witnesses on the Gaza-Israel border said Israeli tanks had massed in several places.

Early on Friday, the Israeli military said it had called up 16,000 army reservists to move against what Israel considers an unacceptable security threat from smuggled rockets amassed by Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Initially, the Egyptian initiative was portrayed as a potential harbinger of reduced hostilities, and, as Prime Minister Hesham Qandil of Egypt prepared to travel to Gaza, Israel agreed to a temporary conditional cease-fire for the visit. But the truce never took hold.

Israel Radio said Palestinian militants had fired 25 rockets into southern Israel, one of them striking a house. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

What sounded like airstrikes by Israeli F-16s were also audible in Gaza City. The Israeli military said no such strikes had taken place, but the Hamas Health Ministry reported that two people, including a child, were killed in the north of Gaza City while the Egyptian delegation was on the ground.

The Palestinian death toll rose to 23 Friday while three Israelis were killed Thursday in a rocket attack on a town in south Israel.

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