Gaza Militants Target Jerusalem With Rockets for First Time
Israeli soldiers near the border with Gaza on Friday.
By ISABEL KERSHNER and RICK GLADSTONE : Published: November 16, 2012
JERUSALEM — Emboldened by displays of Egyptian solidarity and undeterred by Israel’s advanced aerial firepower, Palestinian militants under siege in Gaza broadened their rocket targets on Friday, aiming at the holy city of Jerusalem for the first time, sending a second volley screeching toward Tel Aviv and pushing the Israelis closer to a ground invasion.
Israel’s government more than doubled the number of army reservists it could call to combat if needed in the increasingly lethal showdown with Gaza’s Hamas fighters and their affiliates, after they fired more than 700 rockets into southern Israel over the last year. The escalation has raised fears of a new chapter of war in the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Israeli military closed some roads adjacent to Gaza in anticipation of a possible infantry move into the territory, which would be the first Israeli military presence on the ground in Gaza since the three-week invasion of 2008-9. The Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, went south to brief regular forces and reservists.
“We are here tonight on the eve of a possible ground operation,” he said.
Many residents of Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its capital despite objections from the city’s large Palestinian population and others throughout the Middle East, were startled when wartime sirens warning of impending danger wailed at dusk, followed by at least two dull thuds. Hamas’s military wing claimed in a statement that they were rockets fired from Gaza, 48 miles away, and had been meant to hit the Israeli Parliament.
The police said one of the rockets crashed harmlessly in open space near an Israeli settlement south of Jerusalem. It was unclear where the others landed, but no damage or injuries were reported.
Earlier in Tel Aviv, 40 miles from the Gaza border, air-raid sirens wailed for a second day as a rocket fired from the territory approached. A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said it apparently fell into the Mediterranean.
Although the rockets missed their intended targets, the launchings aimed at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the two biggest population centers, underscored the ability and willingness of Hamas rocket teams to target Israeli or Israeli-occupied areas that up until the past few days had been thought relatively immune.
“We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist or any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises,” Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, said in a message reported by news agencies.
Even Saddam Hussein, when he led Iraq, avoided targeting Jerusalem when he aimed Scud missiles at Israel during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, not wishing to inadvertently destroy Muslim shrines or hit Arab neighborhoods.
Despite three days of repeated Israeli aerial assaults on suspected stockpiles of rockets in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said more than 100 were fired into Israel on Friday, apparently including Iranian-made Fajr-5 projectiles that Israeli officials say are the only ones in the Hamas arsenal with a range that can reach Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.
Hamas contended it had produced those rockets, which the group called M75s, referring to a range of 75 kilometers or roughly 47 miles. Israeli munitions experts said they had never heard of that weapon.
Regardless, the rocket barrage caused widespread panic and damage. It also shattered plans for a temporary cease-fire during an unprecedented trip to Gaza by the Egyptian prime minister, Hesham Qandil, a visit that illustrated the shifting dynamics of Middle East politics since the turmoil of the Arab Spring uprisings began nearly two years ago. Under the last president, Hosni Mubarak, regarded by Israel as an important strategic ally, any relationship with Hamas would have been unthinkable.
“The time in which the Israeli occupation does whatever it wants in Gaza is gone,” Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister, said in a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart.
The persistent ability of Hamas to keep firing missiles at Israel on Friday appeared to weigh heavily in the Israeli military’s calculations about a ground invasion. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Army was “continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza.” Israeli television later reported that Defense Minister Ehud Barak had authorized the military to call up 75,000 reservists if necessary — more than double the 30,000 authorized Thursday.
No Israelis were reported killed in the rocket attacks on Friday, leaving the reported death toll on Israel’s side at three civilians. The number of Palestinians killed so far in the three days rose to at least 30, Gaza health officials said, underscoring what critics of Israeli policy called Israel’s disproportionate use of military force. Israeli leaders have said they are selectively targeting militants in the Gaza attacks, and they blame Hamas for installing rocket batteries in civilian areas.
The Israeli military said Friday night that it had killed Muhammad Abu Jalal, a Hamas company commander in Gaza, and Khaled Shaer, who was involved in rocket development. A military spokesman said that earlier in the day, the Israel Defense Forces had sent text messages to about 12,000 Gaza residents warning them to stay away from Hamas operatives.
In addition, the military said it had crippled Hamas’ burgeoning drone capabilities after striking a number of sites. Hamas, it said, had been developing unmanned aerial vehicles for use as another means of striking Israel.
The Egyptian prime minister’s three-hour visit to Gaza early in the day produced dramatic imagery to underpin his government’s support for Hamas, which Israel, the United States and much of the West consider to be a terrorist organization. It does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Mr. Qandil, noting that he had been accompanied by a delegation from the Egyptian Health Ministry, said “the aim of this visit is not only to show political support but to support the Palestinian people on the ground.”
He said a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel was “the only way to achieve stability in the region” and called on the Palestinians to repair the rift between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
“We call on the Palestinian people to unite because their power and strength is in their unity,” Mr. Qandil said. “That’s the only way to liberate Palestine.”
Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram from Gaza City, Alan Cowell from Paris, Rina Castelnuovo from the Gaza-Israel border, and Mayy El Sheikh and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo.