Egypt Urges Push for Gaza Peace as Rockets Hit Israel
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 planned to increase its military call-up.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened senior members of his cabinet today to discuss expanding the number of reservists to be called up, said an Israeli official speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on record. Netanyahu will ask that the call-up quota be raised to 75,000 soldiers from an initial 30,000, setting the stage for a possible ground incursion into Gaza, Channel 2 television said.
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. Truce-mediation efforts by Egypt are “premature” and rocket attacks will continue, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said at a news conference in Gaza.
Twenty-nine Palestinians have been killed since the air strikes began, said Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Hamas-run ministry of health. An Israeli strike on Gaza hit the interior ministry, Hamas TV reported. 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.
Israeli shares fell in New York, pushing the benchmark index to its biggest weekly slump since July. The Bloomberg Israel-US Equity Index (ISRA25BN) of the largest New-York traded Israeli companies retreated 0.4 percent to 81.67 by 1 p.m. in New York, set for the biggest weekly decline since the five days ended July 13.
The shekel rose 0.3 percent to 3.9665 per dollar. It was the second-worst performer among 10 emerging-market currencies in Europe, the Middle East and Africa tracked by Bloomberg this week, weakening 1.3 percent.
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.
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 the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the League’s foreign ministers to visit Gaza tomorrow. Speaking in Ramallah, Abbas said the Palestinian Authority will press on with its application for “non-member state” status at the United Nations later this month.
About 550 rockets have been fired into Israel over the past two days, with 197 intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said. Israeli air strikes have hit more than 600 targets in Gaza, the army said.
“We will continue to hit hard the missiles which are intended for the center and south of Israel,” Netanyahu said today in a meeting with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, according to an e-mailed statement from the president’s office.
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 it said were gathered at an assembly point near Gaza, and announced it was closing a road running alongside the Palestinian territory to civilian traffic.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke today with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the two leaders expressed “their common desire to see an end to the violence,” according to a White House statement. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke with Israeli and Egyptian foreign ministers and with Jordan’s King Abdullah, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing in Washington.
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.
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.
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