Israel expands air assault on rockets in Gaza
The eerie wail of air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem after the start of the Jewish Sabbath in the holy city, claimed by both Israel and the Palestinians as a capital and located about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Gaza. Jerusalem residents were shocked to find themselves suddenly threatened by rocket fire, which, for more than a decade, had been limited to steadily broadening sections of southern Israel.
The attack on the contested city was especially audacious, both for its symbolism and its distance from Gaza. Located roughly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Gaza border, Jerusalem had been considered beyond the range of Gaza rockets — and an unlikely target because it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest shrine.
Most of the militants’ rockets do not have guided systems, limiting their accuracy, though Israeli officials believe the militants may have a small number of guided missiles that have not yet been used.
Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in an open area southeast of the city — near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and just a few miles from Al-Aqsa.
Earlier on Friday, Gaza gunmen fired toward Tel Aviv for the second straight day, causing no injuries.
‘‘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,’’ said Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing.
Israeli leaders have threatened to widen the operation if the rocket fire doesn’t halt. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said options included the possible assassination of Hamas’ prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, and other top leaders.
‘‘Every time that Hamas fires there will be a more and more severe response,’’ he told Channel 2 TV on Friday. ‘‘I really recommend all the Hamas leadership in Gaza not to try us again. ... Nobody is immune there, not Haniyeh and not anybody else.’’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled with his emergency Cabinet on Friday night. Israeli media reported the meeting approved a request from Defense Minister Ehud Barak to draft 75,000 reservists. Earlier this week, the government approved a separate call-up of as many as 30,000 ose areas. soldiers. Combined, it would be the biggest call-up of reserves in a decade.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said 16,000 reservists were called to duty on Friday and others could soon follow.
She said no decision had been made on a ground offensive but all options are on the table. Dozens of armored vehicles have been moved to Israel’s border with Gaza since fighting intensified Wednesday.
The violence has widened the instability gripping the region, straining already frayed Israel-Egypt relations. The Islamist government in Cairo, linked like Hamas to the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, recalled its ambassador in protest and dispatched Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to the territory on Friday to show solidarity.
President Barack Obama spoke separately to Israeli and Egyptian leaders Friday night as the violence in Gaza escalated. In a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the American president reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense and discussed possible ways to scale back the conflict, the White House said, without offering specifics. Separately, Obama called Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to praise Egypt’s efforts to ease tensions in the region.
At the same time, the changes in the region have opened up new possibilities for Hamas, by strengthening Islamists across the Middle East and bringing newfound recognition to the militant group shunned by the international community because of its refusal to renounce violence against Israel.
Last month’s landmark visit by Qatar’s emir and Friday’s solidarity mission by the Egyptian prime minister illustrated the growing acceptance of Hamas. The foreign minister of Tunisia is due to arrive in Gaza on Saturday, and Morocco’s foreign minister is to come Sunday. Neither country had dispatched representatives since Hamas violently overran Gaza in June 2007.
Associated Press writer Matthew Daly reported from Washington. Teibel reported from Jerusalem.