Update: The IDF Spokesperson confirms a rocket hit outside Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM —Â Air raid sirens sounded inÂ Jerusalem sending Israelis running for cover as it signals a possible rocketÂ attack aimed at Israel’s capital.
If verified, it would be the first time the holy city has ever been targetedÂ by rockets fired by Gaza militants.
Israeli media say the rocket fell north of Jerusalem, but authorities haveÂ not confirmed the reports. In Gaza, Hamas militants said they had attackedÂ Jerusalem.
Egypt’s prime minister rushed to the aid of the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulersÂ Friday in the midst of an Israeli offensive there, calling for an end to theÂ operation, as Palestinian rocket squads aimed at Tel Aviv for a second straightÂ day.
Sirens wailed across Israel’s main metropolis sending people running forÂ cover moments before an explosion was heard, but police said the rocket appearedÂ to have fallen into the sea.
The attacks, which Israel considers to be a major escalation, could draw anÂ Israeli ground invasion of Gaza closer as a spokeswoman confirms the IsraeliÂ military called up called up 16,000 reservists ahead of possible GazaÂ invasion.
Hopes of even a brief cease-fire were dashed after both sides accused theÂ other of violating a proposed cease-fire during a visit by the prime minister ofÂ Egypt to Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told Egypt that Israel was prepared toÂ suspend its military offensive in the Gaza Strip during Prime Minister HishamÂ Kandil’s three-hour visit there Friday.
However, Israel later said Hamas did not honor the deal, saying rockets firedÂ from Gaza had hit several sites in southern Israel as Kandil was in theÂ enclave.
Israel strongly denied it had carried out any attacks from the time KandilÂ entered Gaza, though Gaza militants claimed Israel had continued strikes duringÂ the visit.
More indications emerged late Thursday that the conflict may erupt into anÂ all-out war, as at least 12 trucks were seen transporting Israeli tanks andÂ armored personnel carriers toward Gaza and buses carrying soldiers headed towardÂ the border area.
Israeli TV stations said a Gaza operation was expected on Friday, thoughÂ military officials said no decision had been made.
Early Friday, 85 missiles exploded within 45 minutes in Gaza City, sendingÂ black pillars of smoke towering above the coastal strip’s largest city. TheÂ military said it was targeting underground rocket-launching sites.
Fighting between the two sides escalated sharply Thursday with a first-everÂ militant attack on the Tel Aviv area, menacing Israel’s heartland. No casualtiesÂ were reported, but three people died in the country’s rocket-scarred south whenÂ a projectile slammed into an apartment building.
The death toll in the densely populated Palestinian territory climbed to 19,Â including five children according to Palestinian health officials, as waves ofÂ Israeli fighter planes and drones sent missiles hurtling down on suspectedÂ weapons stores and rocket-launching sites.
One missile hit the Interior Ministry, a symbol of Hamas power.
The fighting has already widened the instability gripping a region in theÂ throes of war and regime upheavals. Most immediately, it is straining alreadyÂ frayed relations with Egypt.
Israel and Hamas had largely observed an informal truce since Israel’sÂ devastating incursion into Gaza four years ago, but rocket fire and IsraeliÂ airstrikes on militant operations didn’t halt entirely. The latest flare-upÂ exploded into major violence Wednesday when Israel assassinated Hamas’ militaryÂ chief, following up with a punishing air assault meant to cripple the militants’Â ability to terrorize Israel with rockets.
The Israeli military reported early Friday that its aircraft had struck moreÂ than 350 targets since the beginning of its operation against Hamas’ rocketÂ operations.
On Thursday, Israeli warplanes struck dozens of Hamas-linked targets, sendingÂ loud booms echoing across the narrow Mediterranean coastal strip at regularÂ intervals, followed by gray columns of smoke. After nightfall, severalÂ explosions shook Gaza City several minutes apart, a sign the strikes were notÂ letting up. The military said the targets were about 70 undergroundÂ rocket-launching sites.
The onslaught has not deterred the militants from striking back with moreÂ than 400 rockets aimed at southern Israel. For the first time, they alsoÂ unleashed the most powerful weapons in their arsenal — Iranian-made Fajr-5Â rockets capable of reaching Tel Aviv.
The two rockets that struck closest to Tel Aviv appear to have landed in theÂ Mediterranean Sea, defense officials said, and another hit an open area on TelÂ Aviv’s southern outskirts.
No injuries were reported, but the rocket fire — the first in the area fromÂ Gaza — sowed panic in Tel Aviv and made the prospect of a ground incursion moreÂ likely. The government later approved the mobilization of up to 30,000Â reservists for a possible invasion.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army was hitting HamasÂ hard with what he called surgical strikes, and warned of a “significantÂ widening” of the Gaza operation. Israel will “continue to take whatever actionÂ is necessary to defend our people,” said Netanyahu, who is up for re-election inÂ January.
“We will continue the attacks and we will increase the attacks, and I believeÂ we will obtain our objectives,” said Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s militaryÂ chief.
An Israeli ground offensive could be costly to both sides. In the last GazaÂ war, Israel devastated large areas of the territory, setting back Hamas’Â fighting capabilities but also paying the price of increasing diplomaticÂ isolation because of a civilian death toll numbering in the hundreds.
The current round of fighting is reminiscent of the first days of thatÂ three-week offensive against Hamas. Israel also caught Hamas off-guard then withÂ a barrage of missile strikes and threatened to follow up with a groundÂ offensive.
However, much has also changed since then.
Israel has improved its missile defense systems, but is facing a more heavilyÂ armed Hamas. Israel estimates militants possess 12,000 rockets, including moreÂ sophisticated weapons from Iran and from Libyan stockpiles plundered after theÂ fall of Muammar Qaddafi’s regime there last year.
Netanyahu, who has clashed even with his allies over the deadlock in MideastÂ peace efforts, appears to have less diplomatic leeway than his predecessor, EhudÂ Olmert, making a lengthy military offensive harder to sustain.
What’s more, regional alignments have changed dramatically since the lastÂ Gaza war. Hamas has emerged from its political isolation as its parent movement,Â the region-wide Muslim Brotherhood, rose to power in several countries in theÂ wake of last year’s Arab uprisings, particularly in Egypt.
Egypt recalled its ambassador to protest the Israeli offensive and hasÂ ordered his prime minister to lead a senior delegation to Gaza on Friday in aÂ show of support for Hamas.
At the same time, while relations with Israel have cooled since the topplingÂ of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, Morsi has not brought a radicalÂ change in Egypt’s policy toward Israel. He has promised to abide by Egypt’s 1979Â peace deal with Israel and his government has continued contacts with IsraelÂ through its non-Brotherhood members.
Source: Fox News