Israel approved the call-up of 75,000 reservists for a possible ground incursion into the Gaza Strip as Palestinian missiles landed in areas around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and air-raid warnings sounded in both cities.
Senior ministers in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved raising the call-up quota from an initial 30,000 at a meeting late yesterday in Tel Aviv, Channel 10 television reported. If Israeli ground forces join the fighting, it would be the first major incursion into Gaza since the three-week operation began in December 2008, which left more than 1,100 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead.
Israel said yesterday that it’s ready to step up its operation if Hamas rocket fire continues to threaten Israeli civilians, signaling the possibility of a ground assault on Gaza. The army posted a picture of tanks it said were gathered at an assembly point near Gaza, and it announced it was closing roads running alongside the Palestinian territory to civilian traffic.
“The repercussions are going to be quite severe for all concerned,” Merzad Bouroujerdi, a Syracuse University political science professor, said in a telephone interview.
The ramifications would extend beyond the two adversaries, said analysts such as Bouroujerdi and David Schenker of the Washington Institute, a policy group. An Israeli ground offensive may further radicalize Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, hurt U.S. interests in the Arab world, weaken the secular Palestinian Authority and fray relations with Egypt enough to strain the 1979 Camp David peace treaty, they said.
U.S. President Barack Obama discussed possible steps to de- escalate the conflict in calls yesterday with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and Netanyahu, according to White House statements.
Obama commended Morsi for trying to reduce the violence, expressing his hope Egypt’s efforts would succeed, the White House said in a statement last night. Obama said it is important to restore stability and prevent further loss of life, the statement said.
The Israeli leader thanked Americans for the financial support given Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which he said has saved “countless Israeli lives,” according to a White House statement.
The call-up of reservists is significantly larger than the call before Israel’s 2008 Gaza incursion, said Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center, a Washington policy group focused on the Middle East. “This is partly a precaution and partly to convey the threat of massive use of force” meant to pressure Hamas, Sach said. Israel’s objectives “are purposely opaque.”
Ground offensives in densely populated areas such as Gaza are very difficult and the nature of any incursion would depend on its goal, Sachs said. If Israel intends to target missile stockpiles, Special Forces will likely be used, he said.
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.
At least one rocket landed south of Jerusalem in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank yesterday, 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.
Three Israelis have died in the rocket attacks from Gaza, the Israeli army says. At least twenty-nine Palestinians have been killed since the air strikes began, said Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Hamas-run ministry of health.
The Bloomberg Israel-US Equity Index of the largest New- York traded Israeli companies retreated 0.6 percent to 81.44 by 2:26 p.m. in New York yesterday, set for a 2.8 percent slump this week, the biggest since the five days ended July 13.
The shekel rose 0.2 percent to 3.9668 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 Syria’s civil war and a burgeoning instability in Jordan. Hundreds of thousands of protesters staged demonstrations from Cairo to Tehran and Istanbul to denounce Israel’s attacks.
“The key question,” Schenker said, ”is what does Egypt do?” Of Mursi, who is facing his first foreign policy crisis, Schenker said, “what does he feel he has to do to placate his constituents?”
Egypt’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. Egypt’s prime minister, Hisham Qandil, visited Gaza yesterday and called for an international effort to end the violence.
A ground offensive might push Mursi to take a more hardline stance than he might otherwise to outflank conservative Islamists in his government. “Will Mursi feel compelled to make unilateral changes in Camp David as a result of this,” Schenker said. “That’s the most significant potential ramification.
U.S. support for Israel will alienate the Arab world, Bouroujerdi said, possibly harming cooperation on initiatives such as efforts to find a political solution to Syria’s conflict.
“It’s going to make life difficult for President Obama,” Bouroujerdi said. “It will cause further criticism and be a liability in the Arab World, especially post-Arab Spring.”
A ground campaign could also elevate the more hardline wing inside Hamas, said Khaled Elgindy, also a fellow at the Saban Center. “They’re going to be more militant, more interested in weapons,” Elgindy said. He noted that after Israel’s 2008 Operation Cast Lead, Hamas developed more lethal weapons capabilities.
“This is not a strategic move,” he said.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday called on the Arab League’s foreign ministers to visit Gaza. The league will meet in Cairo today to discuss the crisis.
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.
“We will continue to hit hard the missiles which are intended for the center and south of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a meeting yesterday with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem, according to an e-mailed statement from the president’s office.
Tel Aviv Blast
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, said by e- mail from Gaza that it fired rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, including one whose target was Israel’s parliament.
Truce-mediation efforts by Egypt are “premature” and rocket attacks will continue, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said at a news conference in Gaza.
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.
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