Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Israel-Gaza Conflict Escalates as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv under Rocket Attack

Israel-Gaza Conflict  Escalates as Jerusalem,  Tel Aviv under Rocket Attack

JERUSALEM - The ongoing conflict between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip escalated drastically Friday as Israel's largest city, Tel Aviv, came under a fresh rocket attack and the Jerusalem area was hit by Gaza rockets for the first time ever.

Three rockets fired from Gaza exploded in Gush Etzion, a settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, state TV Channel 10 reported. There are no immediate reports of injuries or damages.

Some other media reports said only one rocket was fired at the Jerusalem area, landing in an uninhabited area.

This is the first time that rockets launched from Gaza came so close to Jerusalem since Israel launched a large-scale military operation against Palestinian armed groups in the coastal enclave.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for the surprise attack, while The Jerusalem Post said Hamas declared to have shot "an improved Kassam" toward Jerusalem, which it called an M-75.

When sirens rang out over Jerusalem Friday evening, residents were seen running out of homes for bomb shelters. Xinhua reporters in the west of Jerusalem heard no explosions.

Friday morning saw a renewal of rocket fire from Gaza towards southern Israel, with Hamas rocket crews firing some 60 projectiles at Asheklon, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat and other Israeli towns and villages. There were no reports of injuries, but homes and vehicles sustained damages, Israel Radio said.

Nearly 300 rockets have exploded in Israel over the past 72 hours, leaving three dead and dozens wounded.

One of those projectiles landed in an open area in Tel Aviv on Friday morning, but did not explode, the military said. On Thursday night, two long-range Fajr rockets were fired toward Tel Aviv, setting off sirens in the city for the first time since the 1991 Gulf War. In Israel's south, close to a million people are in lockdown. Schools are closed, keeping tens of thousands of students at home, and commerce is suspended as the rockets hit.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force is shouldering the bulk of operations in Gaza and has targeted over 450 militant sites since the start of the operation. Palestinian officials have reported 19 fatalities and more than 150 wounded in those strikes.

A lot of ammunition storage facilities and medium-range rocket launching sites were struck overnight Thursday, causing severe damages to militant infrastructures, the army said in a statement.

A brief lull in the waves of airstrikes came Friday morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the military to observe a three-hour cease-fire during Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Quandil's visit to the coastal enclave, which aimed to mediate a cease-fire. Quandil cut short the visit for unknown reasons, local media said.

The Israeli Defense Ministry on Friday announced the deployment of a fifth upgraded Iron Dome anti-missile battery into service in stepped up efforts to fend off the rocket barrages.

The interceptor, originally scheduled for delivery to the air force in 2013, displayed "impressive capabilities in a series of advanced tests" in recent weeks, the ministry said.

Iron Dome batteries have successfully intercepted upwards of 130 rockets bound to hit populated areas, the army said.

Also Friday, the army called up 16,000 reservists for the possibility of expanding the operation, including a ground offensive in Gaza.(Xinhua)