Jerusalem Targeted by Hamas Rocket Attack

Palestinian militants fired a rocket aimed at Jerusalem yesterday, setting off air raid sirens throughout the city and opening a new front in three days of fierce fighting between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

An attack on Israel's capital marks a major escalation both for its symbolism and the fact it was thought to be out of range of Gaza rocket squads at 50 miles from the Gaza border.

The escalation of the Palestinian attacks on Israel came as Egypt's prime minister had rushed to the Gaza Strip, which has been at the centre of an Israeli air offensive.

A Palestinian rocket was also aimed at Tel Aviv yesterday. Sirens wailed across Israel's main metropolis moments before an explosion was heard, but police said the rocket appeared to have fallen into the sea.

Israel said it halted its incessant air attacks on militant targets in Gaza during the brief visit of Egyptian prime minister Hesham Kandil. Palestinian militants, meanwhile, fired off more than 60 rockets after Mr Kandil arrived in Gaza.

He toured Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, accompanied by the territory's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, who was making his first public appearance since Israel's offensive began on Wednesday.

In one chaotic moment, a man rushed toward the two leaders, shouting as he held up the body of a four-year-old boy. The two men cradled the lifeless boy who Hamas said was killed in an Israeli airstrike - a claim Israel denied.

Fighting to hold back tears, Mr Kandil told reporters that the Israeli operation must end.

"What I saw today in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy ... whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about," he said.

The Israeli campaign has been limited to airstrikes but military officials say they are considering expanding it to a ground campaign.

Lt Col Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman, said the military had called 16,000 reservists to duty as it geared up for a possible ground offensive.

She said the army had authority to draft an additional 14,000 soldiers.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the rocket aimed at Jerusalem landed in an open area near Gush Ezion, a collection of Jewish settlements in the West Bank southeast of the city.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for the Hamas militant wing, said the group had fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem.

"We are sending a short and simple message: There is no security for any Zionist on any single inch of Palestine and we plan more surprises," he said. Hamas officials said the rocket was a homemade "M-75" rocket, a weapon that has never been fired before.

It also marks a bit of a gamble for the militants. The area Gush Ezion is close to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem and just a few kilometres from the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, one of Islam's holiest sites. Jews call the compound the Temple Mount because of the biblical Jewish temples that once stood there.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians live in Jerusalem and nearby areas of the West Bank.

Just a few years ago, Palestinian rockets were limited to crude, homemade devices manufactured in Gaza. But in recent years, Hamas and other armed groups have smuggled in sophisticated, longer-range rockets from Iran and Libya.

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