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Israel Extends Gaza Airstrikes After Rocket Barrage

Israel Says ‘Price to Pay’ as Palestinians Target Tel Aviv
Smoke billows from a spot targeted by an Israeli air strike in Gaza. Photographer: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip, destroying Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s headquarters as missiles struck near Tel Aviv for the third day.

Bombing raids today killed ten Palestinians, lifting the toll since Nov. 14 to 40, including 13 civilians and an 11-month-old child, Ashraf al-Qedra of the Gaza ministry of health said. Israel says its initiative aims to end the hundreds of rockets launched from the Hamas-controlled territory, killing three Israelis this week.

Air-raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv today. Two missiles were fired at the region, one landing in an open area without causing damage or casualties while another was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, Israel Radio reported, citing police officials. A rocket hit the sea south of Tel Aviv on Nov. 15 and another landed near Jerusalem yesterday, the first such attack in decades.

World leaders including President Barack Obama have called for an end to the conflict before it escalates further. Israel deployed tanks near the border, threatening the first ground invasion of Gaza since the attack in December 2008 that killed more than 1,100 Palestinians.

Gaza Visit

Arab League ministers are meeting in Cairo today. The League will propose a delegation to Gaza to show solidarity, headed by its chief, Nabil el-Arabi, and including foreign ministers who want to join, Egypt’s official Middle East News Agency reported, citing an unidentified diplomat.

The League will hold Israel fully responsible for the violence, MENA said, citing an unidentified diplomat. It will urge an immediate halt to attacks and call for reconciliation among Palestinians and support for Egyptian efforts to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza, backed by international guarantees, the agency said.

Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking before departing for Egypt, said Hamas is ready to halt missile attacks if it is given guarantees by the U.S.

Ben Rhodes, deputy U.S. national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president on Air Force One that the Israelis “are going to make their own decisions,” and reiterated the U.S. position that Israel has a right to defend itself. The U.S. wants “the same thing the Israelis want, which is an end to the rocket fire coming out of Gaza.”

The U.S., Israel and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Israeli Jets

Israeli jets hit 300 targets in Gaza today, an army spokesman said, speaking anonymously in line with military rules. The headquarters of the Hamas leader, as well as the Interior Ministry and a police compound were bombed overnight, the Israeli army said.

Hamas said in an e-mailed statement today that the destruction won’t stop it from operating. “The government and the Palestinian people are united to confront the aggression,” it said. “It is the right of Palestinian people and the government to resist the occupation.”

More than 640 rockets, missiles and mortars have been fired into Israel since the conflict started, of which more than 240 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the Israeli army said in an e-mailed statement. Sixty rockets were fired today.

Fragile Cease-Fire

Hamas may want to prolong the conflict for a while “to keep earning more popular support among the Arab peoples and Arab leaders,” said As’ad Abu Sharkh, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City.

The group probably isn’t interested in a “fragile” cease-fire that could be violated either by Israel or by smaller Palestinian groups, Abu Sharkh said. Instead, it seeks “a long-term truce with Israel with guarantees that Israel won’t violate it again,” so that Palestinians can rebuild Gaza, he said.

Israeli ministers agreed to raise the call-up quota to 75,000 from 30,000 at a meeting late yesterday in Tel Aviv, said Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There isn’t a likelihood of a ground operation in the immediate future,” said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

‘Game of Nerves’

The reservist call-up is “part of a game of nerves as much as part of opening a military campaign,” as Israel would be hurt diplomatically if many Palestinians were killed during an incursion, Spyer said. That could change if a rocket kills a large number of Israeli civilians, in which case “all bets are off,” he said.

The army posted a picture of tanks it said were gathered at an assembly point near Gaza, and it announced it was closing roads running alongside the Palestinian territory to civilian traffic.

If Israel does send in troops, they should “finish the job,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said today, according to the Jerusalem Post. He said Israel paid a heavy diplomatic price for its failure to do so in the 2008 offensive.

The standoff in Gaza is putting pressure on Arab leaders such as Egypt’s Mohamed Mursi, who came to power after a popular uprising against Israeli and U.S.-ally Hosni Mubarak last year, and has pledged stronger support for Palestinians. Tens of thousands rallied in Cairo yesterday to protest the Israeli attacks, and there were similar demonstrations in Turkey, Iran and other Islamic countries.

Gaza Missions

Mursi dispatched Foreign Minister Hisham Qandil to Gaza yesterday. Tunisia, another Arab country that overthrew a pro-Western ruler during the wave of regional unrest, sent its Foreign Minister Rafiq Abdel Salam today.

Erdogan told Egyptian students in Cairo today that Turkey and Egypt “represent the joint conscience of the region” and can work together to help resolve the conflicts in Gaza and Syria. He said earlier that Obama asked him to use his influence with Hamas to help end the conflict, and that he urged Obama in return to apply pressure on Israel.

Obama also spoke to Mursi and Netanyahu, according to the White House.

The Bloomberg Israel-US Equity Index of the largest New-York traded Israeli companies retreated 0.3 percent in New York yesterday, extending its weekly drop to 2.4 percent, the most in four months. Oil rose yesterday on concern that the Gaza clashes may escalate into a wider conflict that would endanger Middle East shipments. Crude for December delivery climbed 1.4 percent to $86.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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