Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rockets from Gaza hit Tel Aviv area, could trigger escalation of Israeli offensive

JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian militants barraged Israel with nearly 150 rockets on Thursday, killing three people as Israel pressed a punishing campaign of airstrikes on militant targets across the Gaza Strip. Three rockets struck the densely populated Tel Aviv area, and air raid sirens blared in the city as night fell.

The fighting, which has also killed 15 Palestinians in two days, showed no signs of slowing after dark. The attacks in the Tel Aviv area, some of the deepest rocket strikes on record, raised the likelihood of an even tougher Israeli response. Gaza militants launched the rocket barrage in retaliation for Israel's killing of the Hamas military chief in an airstrike on Gaza Wednesday.

Israeli Channel 2 TV showed panicked Tel Aviv residents running for cover and lying down on the ground after the air-raid sirens began sounding. The military said two rockets had been fired at the city, and residents heard an explosion. But there was no word on where they landed or reports of injuries. Police were exploring the possibility that the rockets landed in the sea.

Earlier in the day, a third rocket landed in an open area of Rishon Lezion, a city on Tel Aviv's southern outskirts, but there were no casualties.

Any attempt to disrupt life in Israel's business and cultural capital would mark a significant escalation by Gaza militants.

Defense officials say Israel is prepared to launch a ground invasion into Gaza if necessary. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army was prepared for a "significant widening" of its Gaza offensive.

"No government would tolerate a situation where nearly a fifth of its people live under a constant barrage of rockets and missile fire, and Israel will not tolerate this situation," he said. "This is why my government has instructed the Israeli Defense Forces to conduct surgical strikes against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And this is why Israel will continue to take whatever action is necessary to defend our people."