Egypt Urges Push for Gaza Peace as Rockets Hit Israel

Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil
Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniya, right, receives Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, left, in Gaza City. Photographer: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian missiles landed in areas around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and air-raid warnings sounded in both cities as Israel extended its bombing of the Gaza Strip and militant groups fired rockets at the Jewish state.

At least one rocket landed south of Jerusalem in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank, where Jewish settlements are located, hitting an “open area” with no casualties or damage reported, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said by phone. The Foreign Ministry said it was the first time a missile was fired at Jerusalem since the 1967 Middle East war.

A blast was heard in Tel Aviv at about 1:30 p.m. and air-raid warnings sounded around the same time. The municipality opened its bomb shelters, Channel 2 TV said. Police said a missile may have landed in an “unpopulated area.” The Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, which governs the territory, said by e-mail from Gaza that it fired rockets at both cities, including one whose target was Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem.

The escalating conflict threatens a region still unbalanced after a wave of popular uprisings last year, including one in Israel’s neighbor Syria that has turned into a civil war. Hundreds of thousands of protesters staged demonstrations from Cairo to Tehran and Istanbul to denounce Israel’s attacks.

‘Take Responsibility’

Egypt’s prime minister, Hisham Qandil, visited Gaza today and called for an international effort to end the violence there, saying that “the world should take responsibility in stopping this aggression.” The country’s Muslim Brotherhood administration, which helped overthrow Israeli ally Hosni Mubarak last year, has vowed to take a stronger stand in defense of Palestinian rights.

The Arab League will meet in Cairo tomorrow to discuss Gaza. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants the League’s foreign ministers to visit Gaza, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters in Ramallah. He said Israeli strikes have made the Palestinian Authority more determined to press on with its application for “non-member state” status at the United Nations later this month.

The militant wing of Hamas said it shot down an Israeli jet, Channel 2 reported, citing a statement from the group. An Israeli army spokesman, speaking anonymously in accordance with military rules, said no plane has been hit.

About 500 rockets have been fired into Israel over past two days, with 184 intercepted by Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said. Israeli air strikes have hit almost 500 targets in Gaza, it said.

‘Hit Hard’

“We will continue to hit hard the missiles which are intended for the center and south of Israel,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today in a meeting with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, according to an e-mailed statement from the president’s office.

At least one long-range missile from Gaza was fired yesterday at Tel Aviv, and it probably fell in the sea with no damage or injuries reported, Rosenfeld said.

Twenty-three Palestinians have been killed since the air strikes began, including one man who died this morning while Qandil and Hamas’s Gaza premier Ismail Haniyeh were visiting a hospital, said Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Hamas-run ministry of health. Israel says its attacks have targeted launch-sites for medium-range rockets, as well as ammunition storage facilities. Three Israelis have died in the rocket attacks from Gaza, the Israeli army says.

Iron Dome

The Bloomberg Israel-US Equity Index of the largest New-York traded Israeli companies retreated 0.5 percent to 81.52 today, set for a 2.7 percent decline this week.

Israel’s air strikes have eliminated most of the long-range missiles in Gaza, and the remaining threat is mostly from missiles with a range of up to 50 kilometers (30 miles), Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., told reporters on a conference call.

Israel will activate a fifth Iron Dome system two months before schedule “following recent events,” and it will be delivered to active air defense units from a testing area tomorrow, the Ministry of Defense said by e-mail today.

Israel said yesterday that it’s ready to step up its operation if rocket fire continues, signaling the possibility of the first ground assault on Gaza since the one launched in December 2008, which left more than 1,100 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead. The army posted a picture of tanks and said they were gathered at an assembly point near Gaza.

Egyptian Support

Army spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai said the military plans to call up as many as 30,000 reservists, hours after Netanyahu said it was ready for a “substantial expansion” of the operation. The army said in a post on Twitter that it has begun calling up 16,000 reservists. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he approved the call-up of additional forces, the ministry said by e-mail.

President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said that “the onus is on Hamas to de-escalate.” The U.S. is in close contact with Israeli officials and is working with Turkey, Egypt and European nations to pressure Hamas to end the “unacceptable” rocket attacks, Rhodes said during a conference call.

The U.S., European Union and Israel classify Hamas as a terrorist group. The Israeli army advised in a post on Twitter that “no Hamas operatives, whether low-level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.”

Iran, accused by Israel of being Hamas’s chief backer, said the group is entitled to defend itself against Israeli aggression. Hamas is fighting for a “just cause,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told Russia’s state broadcaster RT today.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said international efforts are needed to stop Israel’s offensive. French President Francois Hollande said he has urged Netanyahu not to “fall into provocations,” and asked Egyptian leader Mohamed Mursi to use his influence to calm the situation.

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