- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that the idea of a cease-fire between Israeli military forces and Hamas is “not on the agenda,” despite a mediation offer from President Obama, as reports emerged that Palestinian militants may have intentionally aimed rockets at a secretive Israeli nuclear facility.

Israeli government officials pointedly declined to comment on reports that Hamas fired a barrage of homemade but long-range M75 rockets at the city of Dimona, with the specific goal of hitting Israeli nuclear weapons facilities believed to be based near the city.

“The Israeli establishment does not talk about nuclear capabilities and their existence,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.

SEE ALSO: Hamas orders civilians to die in Israeli airstrikes

He did confirm, however, that militants are believed to have fired several rockets Wednesday from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip toward Dimona, a city of roughly 33,000 people on the edge of southern Israel’s Negev desert.

Pro-Israel advocates in Washington pounced on the development. The Israel Project on its website linked to Israeli media reports that said Hamas had claimed responsibility for the rockets and that they were trying to hit a nuclear reactor near Dimona.

Gearing up for more: Israeli soldiers under an "Iron Dome" are preparing their weapons as tensions quickly escalate along the Gaza border. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in no mood to discuss a cease-fire, despite offers of mediation by President Obama. (Associated Press)
Gearing up for more: Israeli soldiers under an “Iron Dome” are preparing ... more >

Of three rockets fired on the city, two landed in open areas and a third was intercepted by the Israeli military’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system.

SEE ALSO: Obama calls Netanyahu, says U.S. willing to negotiate Israel cease-fire

With its overall barrage of rockets during recent days, Col. Lerner said Hamas is attempting “to send a message that they can launch rockets anywhere in Israel.”

Obama offer

White House officials confirmed Thursday that President Obama called Mr. Netanyahu offering U.S. help in negotiating a cease-fire, while saying he understood the need for Israel to defend itself. The White House said the U.S. was willing to “facilitate a cessation of hostilities,” potentially along the lines of a 2012 cease-fire that the U.S. helped broker, according to The Associated Press.

Mr. Obama also raised the case of Tariq Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian-American teenager who was detained and apparently beaten by Israeli authorities. Israeli officials say they are investigating the security force’s handling of the case.

“The president expressed concern about the risk of further escalation and emphasized the need for all sides to do everything they can to protect the lives of civilians and restore calm. But he also urged both sides not to escalate the crisis,” the White House said in a statement.

In response to Israeli air force pounding of hundreds of targets in Gaza, Hamas has launched rockets deeper into the Jewish state than ever before during decades of on-again, off-again violence between the two sides, raising fears throughout the region of an escalation of fighting.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Hamas and other Gaza militants have fired more than 420 rockets toward Israel over the past three days. With seven anti-missile batteries and high-tech warning mechanisms now deployed across Israel, Israel’s Iron Dome defense system has been effective in recognizing the trajectories of incoming rockets. Those headed for major population centers are shot down, while others are allowed to fall into empty fields.

The system was deployed for the first time Thursday in Jerusalem, where two puffs of smoke appeared in the sky — apparently after intercepting two incoming rockets. As of Thursday, there were no reports of Israelis having been killed by Hamas rockets, while the Health Ministry in Gaza has reported at least 85 Palestinian deaths, including 22 on Thursday alone. Some reports have cited as many as 500 Palestinians injured as a result of the Israeli air assault.

Rising tensions

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