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Rockets hit near Tel Aviv as Gaza death toll rises

By Reuters - Nov 16,2012 - Last updated at Nov 16,2012

GAZA — Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip targeted Tel Aviv on Thursday in the first attack on the Israeli city in 20 years.

Earlier, a Hamas rocket killed three Israelis north of the Gaza Strip, drawing the first blood from Israel as the Palestinian death toll rose to 16, five of them children.

Israeli warplanes bombed targets in and around Gaza city for a second day, shaking tall buildings. In a sign of possible escalation, the Israeli armed forces spokesperson said the military had received the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

Plumes of smoke and dust furled into a sky laced with the vapour trails of outgoing rockets over the crowded city, where four young children killed on Wednesday were buried.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Palestinian fighters would “pay” for firing the missiles.

At about the same time, Israeli aircraft conducted a wave of night raids on targets throughout the enclave, unleashing more than 25 strikes in swift succession.

An electricity generator supplying the home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh by the Gaza shore was hit by an Israeli missile.

The conflict, launched by Israel with the killing of Hamas’ military chief, pours oil on the fire of a Middle East already ablaze with two years of revolution and an out-of-control civil war in Syria.

Egypt’s new Islamist President Mohamed Morsi led a chorus of denunciation of the Israeli strikes by Palestinian allies.

Morsi’s prime minister, Hisham Qandil, will visit Gaza on Friday with other Egyptian officials in a show of support for the enclave, an Egyptian Cabinet official said. Israel promised that the delegation would come to no harm.

Israel says its attack is in response to escalating missile strikes from Gaza. Israel’s bombing has not yet reached the saturation level seen before it last invaded Gaza in 2008, but Israeli officials have said a ground assault is still an option. Israeli security forces said three Israelis died when a rocket hit a four-storey building in the town of Kiryat Malachi, 25km north of Gaza, the first Israeli fatalities of the latest conflict to hit the coastal region.

Air raid sirens sent residents running for shelter in Tel Aviv, a Mediterranean city that has not been hit by a rocket since the 1991 Gulf War. Israeli sources said one rocket landed in the sea, while another landed in an uninhabited area of the Tel Aviv suburbs.

The Tel Aviv metropolitan area holds more than three million people, more than 40 per cent of Israel’s population.

“This escalation will exact a price that the other side will have to pay,” Barak said in a television broadcast shortly after the strike.

Speaking at the same time in Gaza, Hamas leader Haniyeh urged Egypt to do more to help the Palestinians.

“We call upon the brothers in Egypt to take the measures that will deter this enemy,” the Hamas prime minister said.

Morsi said “the Israelis must realise that this aggression is unacceptable and would only lead to instability in the region and would negatively and greatly impact the security of the region.”

The Gaza offensive began on Wednesday when a precision Israeli air strike killed Hamas leader Ahmad Jaabari. Israel then began shelling the enclave from land, air and sea.

At Jaabari’s funeral on Thursday, supporters fired guns in the air celebrating news of the Israeli deaths, to chants for Jaabari of “You have won.”

The Israeli army said 250 targets were hit in Gaza, including more than 130 rocket launchers. It said more than 270 rockets had struck Israel since the start of the operation, with its Iron Dome interceptor system shooting down more than 105 rockets headed for residential areas.

Expecting days or more of fighting and almost inevitable civilian casualties, Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets in Gaza telling residents to stay away from Hamas and other fighters.

The United States condemned Hamas, shunned by the West as an obstacle to peace for its refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

“There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organisations are employing against the people of Israel,” said Mark Toner, deputy State Department spokesperson.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting late on Wednesday, but took no action.

French President Francois Hollande has begun talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other world leaders in an attempt to avert an escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Jean-Francois Ayrault said.

Iran condemned the Israeli offensive as “organised terrorism”.

Netanyahu, favoured in polls to win a Jauary 22 general election, said the Gaza operation could be stepped up.

His Cabinet has granted authorisation for the mobilisation of military reserves if required to press the offensive, dubbed “Pillar of Defence” in English and “Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew after the Israelites’ divine sign of deliverance in Exodus.

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