GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas rocket squads aimed at Jerusalem for the first time Friday, along with commercial hub Tel Aviv, showing off their expanded reach as Israeli airstrikes pounded the Palestinian territory for a third day. Israel called up 16,000 reservists, moving a step closer to a possible ground offensive in the Palestinian territory.
Air raid sirens sounded in the two cities which — unlike population centers in Israel’s south — had not been exposed to rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza before the current round of cross-border fighting. No injuries were reported, but Hamas‘ latest attempts to hit Israel’s heartland could push Israel closer to sending ground troops into Gaza.
Over the past three days, Israel has relentlessly pounded suspected rocket launching sites and other Hamas targets in Gaza with scores of airstrikes, while Hamas has fired more than 450 rockets toward Israel. The overall death toll rose to 30 — 27 Palestinians and three Israelis.
The Islamic militant group was badly bruised during its last full-fledged confrontation with Israel four years ago that ended with an informal truce, although rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes on militant operations continued sporadically. The Islamic militant group appeared better prepared this time with a more powerful arsenal.
Just a few years ago, Palestinian rockets were limited to crude, homemade devices manufactured in Gaza. But in recent years, Hamas and other armed groups have smuggled in sophisticated, longer-range rockets from Iran and Libya, which has been flush with weapons since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted last year.
Most of the 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 deployed.
Hamas said the two rockets aimed at the two Israeli cities Friday were made in Gaza, a prototype the militants call M-75, and have a range of about 80 kilometers (50 miles).
The 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. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket landed in an open area southeast of the city.
Earlier Friday, Gaza militants fired toward Tel Aviv and an explosion was heard in the city, but no injuries were reported. Hamas had first targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday, an unprecedented achievement for the group.
“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, spokesman for the Hamas militant wing, said of the rockets aimed at Israel’s two main cities.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter, said Hamas was demanding an end to the offensive, limits on Israeli ground activities along the border, a permanent halt in assassinations of Hamas leaders and an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
“These conditions must be honored and sponsored by a third party,” he said. “We will stop all armed activities out of Gaza in return.”
An Israeli official refused to say whether Egypt or any other country was involved in cease-fire efforts but said Israel would not settle for anything less than a complete and longstanding halt to the rocket fire. “We’re not interested in a timeout that returns us to square one,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss the matter with the press.