Israel and Hamas continued to trade fire on Friday, with the Gaza militants targeting Jerusalem with a rocket for the first time in history. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, meanwhile, has pledged support for Gaza.
Air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem on Friday, as Hamas militants said they had fired a long-range rocket at the city – the first attack on the holy city in Hamas’ history. Israeli media reported the rocket landed in an uninhabited zone outside of the city.
In Gaza, Israeli aircraft targeted the rocket-launching operations of Gaza-based militants, the barrage only mildly relenting during a visit to the area by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil.
Israel also started to amass tanks and armoured personnel carriers near the border with the Palestinian territory, while ministers approved the call-up of as many as 75,000 reservists to ready for a broader operation, indicating that a ground invasion might be coming soon.
Across the Red Sea, Egypt threw its support behind Gaza, with President Mohamed Morsi promising that his country would “not leave Gaza on its own” in face of Israel’s “blatant aggression against humanity”, the MENA news agency reported.
Tel Aviv rocket a ‘game changer’
At least 23 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since the fighting began last week, when Hamas launched rocket strikes against the Jewish state.
Cross-border fighting intensified after an Israeli air strike on Wednesday killed top Hamas commander Ahmed al-Jaabari, triggering a major flare-up in and around the tiny Palestinian enclave that is home to 1.6 million people.
Operation Pillar of Defence is Israel’s biggest military campaign in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in nearly four years.
On Thursday evening, sirens in Tel Aviv sent commuters scurrying home as a rocket crashed into the sea near the coastal city, but caused no casualties.
Gaza-based Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. “We have widened the range of the battle to reach Tel Aviv and what is coming will be greater,” the group said in a statement.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Iris Makler said the Tel Aviv rocket was “a game changer” for the Israelis. “Whether they take that next step and go in for a ground operation is not yet clear,” she said.
The unremitting violence, which erupted as Israel heads towards a January general election, sparked expressions of deep concern from the international community and prompted an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on Wednesday.
Cast Lead fears
FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fenwick reported from Gaza City that Gazans feared the incursion could escalate to become comparable with the one they saw four years ago with Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.
“There is a troubling coincidence that such a huge Israeli operation is taking place just two months before Israel’s next legislative elections,” he said. Operation Cast Lead, which saw more than a thousand Gazans killed during three weeks of air strikes from December 2008 to January 2009, took place months before Israel’s last round of legislative elections.
The latest Israeli operation has prompted an outpouring of anger across the Arab and Muslim world, with Tehran accusing the Jewish state of “organised terrorism” and Qatar’s prime minister saying the strikes “must not pass unpunished.”
As Russia slammed Israel for “disproportionate” use of force in Gaza, Britain said it was Hamas that bore “principal responsibility” for the current crisis, with both governments calling for calm.
Middle East envoy Tony Blair also urged Hamas to stop targeting Israeli towns, warning that “the retaliation will increase” while the US White House said there was “no justification” for rocket attacks on Israel and blamed Hamas for the explosion of violence.