Hamas Fires On Jerusalem, IDF Prepares For Gaza Ground Assault As Egypt Backs Away

 @MayaErgas on November 16 2012 2:11 PM
Israeli Soldiers Near Gaza
Israeli soldiers prepare armoured personnel carriers at an area near the border with the Gaza Strip. Reuters

Hamas sent more rockets in the direction of Tel Aviv for a second straight day, while air raid sirens were heard in Jerusalem for the first time since 1970, Haartez reported. 

The firing on Jerusalem shocked the international community, as the city is holy not just to Jews, but also to Muslims and Christians, and it is home to more than 200,000 Muslims. The New York Times pointed out that even deceased Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein avoided launching Scud missiles at Jerusalem during the 1991 Gulf War.

The Jerusalem Post reported that nearly 350 rockets had been launched from Gaza since Wednesday. Haaretz said the number was more than 500. 

The Israeli Defense Force said the Iron Dome defense system had intercepted 130 of those rockets and that the IDF has targeted 320 "active terror sites in the Gaza Strip" since the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense on Wednesday. 

"We will continue the attacks, and we will increase the attacks, and I believe we will obtain our objectives," said Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel's military chief told the AP

Three Israeli civilians, including one pregnant woman, have been killed. At least 22 Palestinians have died, including 14 civilians and seven children, Reuters said. Tweets from Gaza residents indicated more missile strikes would come as Israel prepared for a possible ground assault. As of Friday evening, Israeli time, Haaretz said, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called up more than 75,000 reservists.

As rockets rained down on both sides, Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil arrived in Gaza, YNet News reported. A source told Reuters the prime minister's visit was "the beginning of a process to explore the possibility of reaching a truce. It is [too] early to speak of any details or of how things will evolve."

"If Hamas says it understands the message and commits to a long cease-fire, via the Egyptians or anyone else, this is what we want. We want quiet in the south and a stronger deterrence," Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israeli radio, and he confirmed that Israel was in contact with the Egyptian defense ministry.

Egypt has thus far backed Hamas in the fight and denounced Israel's attacks, but this could be a test for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Al-Arabiya wrote on Thursday, as Morsi had previously expressed a desire for peace with Israel.

In the past, Hamas, an offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood, has appealed to Egypt to broker peace with Israel. But this time, Egypt may restrain itself. “We don’t see any reaction. And most probably, there will be no action from the Brotherhood,” Ali Abdel Rehim, an Egyptian political analyst told Al-Arabiya. 

Despite the expectation for Egypt's first freely elected president to radically break with his predecessor's policies of acquiescence toward Israel, Morsi absolutely does not want to raise the ire of the U.S. right now. In addition, the current domestic and economic situation in Egypt will likely dampen any Egyptian intervention or attempts to smuggle weapons, Rehim said. And besides, he added, "America is closely watching Egypt’s reaction.”

Elsewhere on the world stage, Germany has come down on Israel's side, and like the UK, it placed the blame on  Hamas for the escalation of violence. However, on Friday Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke out against Israel's actions, calling the attacks a "stunt" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the upcoming January elections in Israel. 

"Before this election, [Israel] shot these innocent people in Gaza for reasons they fabricated," Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, Reuters reported. "The dominant world powers are now making the Gaza people and fighters pay, and as the Republic of Turkey we are with our brothers in Gaza and their just cause."

In a surprise twist, the semi-secret hacker's group Anonymous has declared their allegiance to Hamas as well, the Huffington Post reported, and it has targeted and defaced several Israeli websites, including a blog operated by the IDF and the website of the Israel Security Academy, a privacy firm, Forbes reported. The group also claimed to have taken down websites belonging to the Israeli government and military.

In a press statement, Anonymous declared, "To the people of Gaza and the Occupied Territories, know that Anonymous stands with you in this fight. We will do everything in our power to hinder the evil forces of the IDF arrayed against you," and it said the group had a "care package" for anyone who might lose Internet access.

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