Palestinian militants target Jerusalem with rocket attack in major escalation
Hamas, an Iranian-backed group committed to Israel's destruction, 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.
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.
Hamas said the 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 50 miles (80.46 kilometers). The Israeli military also released a video of what it said was an attempt by Hamas to launch an unmanned drone aircraft. Neither weapon was previously known to be used by Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu huddled with his emergency Cabinet on Friday night. Israeli media reported the meeting approved a request from Defense Minister Ehud Barak to draft 75,000 reservists. Earlier this week, the government approved a separate call-up of as many as 30,000 soldiers. Combined, it would be the biggest call-up of reserves in a decade.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said 16,000 reservists were called to duty on Friday and others could soon follow.
She said no decision had been made on a ground offensive but all options are on the table. Dozens of armored vehicles have been moved to Israel's border with Gaza since fighting intensified Wednesday.
The violence has widened the instability gripping the region, straining already frayed Israel-Egypt relations. The Islamist government in Cairo, linked like Hamas to the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, recalled its ambassador in protest and dispatched Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to show solidarity with Gaza.
Kandil called for an end to the offensive while touring Gaza City's Shifa Hospital with Haniyeh, the Gaza prime minister who was making his first public appearance since the fighting began.
In one chaotic moment, a man rushed toward the two leaders, shouting as he held up the body of a 4-year-old boy. The two prime ministers cradled the lifeless boy who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Israel vociferously denied the claim, saying it had not operated in the area.
Fighting to hold back tears, Kandil told reporters the Israeli operation must end.
"What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy ... whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about," he said.
An Egyptian intelligence official, meanwhile, said an Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire in Gaza was presented Friday to Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders. The details were not made public.
However, Hamas replied that a cease-fire was premature because military chief Ahmed Jaabari's "blood has not dried yet."
The Egyptian official said Hamas officials promised to study the cease-fire proposal again in the coming days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
A senior Hamas official confirmed that Egypt, which often mediates between Hamas and Israel, was working behind the scenes to arrange a truce.
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 long-standing 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 media.
Federman reported from Jerusalem. Aya Batrawi in Cairo and Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed reporting.
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